The virus, AgDNV, is a densonucleosis virus or 'densovirus,' which are common to mosquitoes and other insects, but do not infect vertebrate animals such as humans.
Although the virus does not appear to harm the mosquitoes, the researchers determined it is highly infectious to mosquito larvae and is easily passed on to the adults.
Jason Rasgon, PhD, senior author of the study said that the discovery came about serendipitously while the research team was conducting experiments to determine whether Wolbachia bacteria could be used to infect An. gambiae mosquito cells.
During the analysis, researchers noticed an 'artifact,' that appeared as a prominent band in the gel used to detect the bacteria.
"Finding artifacts such as this one during experiments is not uncommon, but we decided to investigate this one further since we kept observing it over and over. When we sequenced it we were surprised to learn that we had found a new virus," said Rasgon.
Rasgon said that the virus could be potentially altered to kill the mosquito or make An. gambiae incapable of transmitting malaria.
To test the concept, the researchers successfully used altered AgDNV to express harmless green fluorescent protein in the adult mosquitoes which could be easily spotted under the microscope.
"In theory, we could use this virus to produce a lethal toxin in the mosquito or instruct the mosquito to die after 10 days, which is before it can transmit the malaria parasite to humans. However, these concepts are many years away," said Rasgon.
The study was published August 22 online in the peer-reviewed open access journal PLoS Pathogens.