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article imageMosquitoes stopped from spreading dengue fever by bacteria

By Tim Sandle     Apr 14, 2013 in Science
Scientists have had some success with manipulating mosquitoes so that they are unable to spread viruses such as dengue, a disease which kills round 40,000 people each year.
The blocking of viral spreading mosquitoes has been achieved with a type of disease-blocking bacterium. The bacterium is called Wolbachia and when it is paired up with an insecticide it can change the mosquito so that it can no longer carry and transmit a disease like dengue fever.
Dengue fever is an infectious tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. In a small proportion of cases the disease develops into the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and blood plasma leakage, or into dengue shock syndrome, where dangerously low blood pressure occurs. Dengue is transmitted by several species of mosquito.
Professor Hoffmann from the University of Melbourne and Professor Michale Turelli from the University of California have shown, according to a research brief, that by introducing an insecticide resistance gene alongside the Wolbachia bacteria into the mosquito, that the insects pass on the disease-blocking bacteria to other mosquitoes faster. The strain of the bacteria used was first isolated from Australian fruit flies during the late 1980s.
Wolbachia is a genus of bacteria which infects a high proportion of insects. It is one of the world's most common parasitic microbes and is possibly the most common reproductive parasite in the biosphere (according to a science report).
The scientific strategy involves adding a pesticide resistance gene to a strain of Wolbachia called wMelPop . Insecticide use is very common in dengue and malaria-prone regions and so this approach should select for the survival of only the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes, but then these insects would be unable to pass on a virus to humans.
One of the important aspects of this research is that, if it was successful, it would be relatively cheaper to administer. The downside are the potential unknown environmental implications.
The outcomes of the research have been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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