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Of all the ways that have been tried to control malaria, one of the easiest could also be among the most effective, a new study suggests. Yet the idea of cutting back on the regular food supply of mosquitoes has been neglected, possibly because it just seemed too simple to work.

Malaria is transmitted when parasite-infected Anopheles mosquitoes drink human blood. However, this isn't the way mosquitoes get most of their energy. Normally, these pesky critters live on plant sugars – indeed, the males always do. The females use blood to provide the nutrients needed for their eggs to develop, but go back to plants the rest of the time.

To fight this devastating disease, we've tried everything from killing the insects with environmentally destructive chemical sprays to preventing them getting at us using bed nets. We've even tried removing the stagnant water in which they breed and vaccinating to stop the parasite while the mozzies go unmolested.

Dr Gunter Muller of the Hebrew University pointed out one possibility that had been ignored – cutting off the mosquitoes' access to food plants to limit numbers. Of course, removing all plants around population centers is highly undesirable, if not impossible. However, Muller noted that for mosquitoes, one plant is not as good as another. In the Bandiagra District of Mali, the mosquitoes appear to be getting most of their non-human energy supply from the nectar of the Prosopis juliflora shrub.