Molecules Vs. Malaria

Malaria is a disease that is known by many, but experienced by few people in first world countries today. However, malaria is the greatest killer of humanity of all time, and if it had not have been for several important molecules, it might still be raging on today. This disease is transported through the pesky and ever present mosquito. Once an anopheles mosquito bites its victim, the person becomes infected as the malaria parasite begins to develop in the victim’s liver. Soon after, the victim will begin to experience the typical symptoms of intense fevers, chills, headaches, and muscles pains from all four strands of malaria. The only deadly type is falciparum malaria in which the infected person becomes jaundiced, confused, and sluggish before entering a coma and dying. During the Civil War, over half of the troops suffered from malaria, and many other wars have been affected by the disease.

People searched for some type of antidote to help patients who were infected with malaria, and one of the first molecules found that helped came from trees high in the Andes mountains. The tree was a from the Cinchona genus and has about 40 different species. Its bark was brewed as a tea to cure fevers of malaria victims. Eventually, it was found out that the active alkaloid molecule in the cinchona tree’s bark was quinine. In the mid-1600s, Father Antonio de la Calaucha discovered the bark and, along with the Jesuit order, he began to use the bark to prevent and treat malaria. the “Jesuit powder”, as it was called, was taken back to Rome where it sold like crazy. For the next three hundred years the bark of the cinchona tree was used commonly for malaria.

To avoid the extinction of cinchona trees, it became evident that an alternative to the tree’s bark for quinine was needed. The men accredited with first extracting and purifying quinine were Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Caventou. Synthesizing quinine was the next step, and in 1944, it was thought to have been accomplished by Robert Woodward and William Doering. However, the publishing was too sketchy and not actually proven. It was not until 2001 that Gilbert Stock finally was able to truly synthesize quinine.The process included a very tricky and time consuming separation of the quinine that has to be repeated four times. Although it is no longer the main solution to malaria, quinine continues to provide some protection against malaria.

As scientists kept searching for ways to attack the disease, it was discovered that the best way to break the cycle of malaria was to directly kill the mosquito itself. To do so, powerful insecticides were found to work well against anopheles mosquitoes. Chlorinated DDT was initially used due to the fact that it could be non toxic to animals and humans while still being lethal to insects. DDT was used for a long time throughout the world to help eliminate malaria, but it eventually went out of style and holds a slightly ominous tone to this day.

Overall, I believe that malaria does not have as large as an impact on the modern world as it has in the past. It is currently a disease mainly found in third world countries, and it has preventative measures that can be taken. I do agree with the authors that the molecule quinine and DDT have changed history in a way, because they were two things that made fear of malaria more a thing of the past than the present.


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2 thoughts on “Molecules Vs. Malaria

  1. Good job with this summary! I especially agree with the point about malaria being a thing of the past, all because of the molecules the chapter discusses.

  2. Great explanation of where malaria comes from and the attempts to find a suitable cure! Interesting view point at the end as well… I believe malaria was a much bigger issue at one time, but because of our advancements in technology and science, it is indeed a thing of the past for most parts of the world.

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