The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, raises fears that a hard-to-cure variant of the disease could reach the world's most vulnerable continent.
Lab tests showed that drug-immune Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite, are able to infect the Anopheles coluzzii mosquito – the main transmitter of the disease in Africa, Medical Xpress reports.
The parasite has evolved to resist the effects of artemisinin, the leading malaria drug which earned its maker a Nobel Medicine Prize earlier this month.
"The discovery suggests Africa – where malaria will cause an estimated 400,000 deaths in 2015 – is more at risk for drug-resistant malaria infections than previously thought," read a statement from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which took part in the study.
Approximately 584,000 people worldwide died from malaria in 2013, of an estimated 198 million infections, according to the World Health Organization. Ninety percent of the deaths took place in Africa.
There has not yet been a documented case of Artemisinin-resistant malaria in Africa.
Researchers successfully infect African mosquitoes with resistant parasites from Cambodia. They also discovered a shared genetic background among artemisinin-resistant parasites that may enable them to infect diverse mosquito species.
"The ability of artemisinin-resistant parasites to infect such highly diverse Anopheles species… may explain the rapid expansion of these parasites in Cambodia and neighboring countries, and further compromise efforts to prevent their global spread," wrote the authors.