The idea of altering mosquitoes to fight disease appears to be quite contagious.
It’s almost become a news category unto itself, with at least a story every month or so involving something like:
- — Genetic modifications that causes infected skeeters to kill themselves or their disease cargo, or to cause infertility ….
- — Fighting the bugs with fungus or seaweed or making them spermless or ….
Scientists in Australia want to expand upon successful field tests indicating that infecting mosquitoes with a particular bacteria, known as Wolbachia, prevents the bugs from transmitting the dengue virus.
Dengue, also known as dengue fever or “break-bone” fever, is exploding worldwide and so there are a number of efforts underway to stave off the epidemic, including finding a vaccine and, well, messing with mosquitoes.
Here are a number of good stories on the latest strategy aimed at fighting disease by messing with mosquitoes:
Few of the news reports go into much detail scrutinizing the potential adverse side-effects, whether to humans, the environment or the skeeters, but that’s routine for news stories based on early stage scientific studies.
The bacterium, Wolbachia, is a common insect infector and is widely regarded as fairly benign if not downright beneficial. Still, you never know when you fool with Mother Nature — which is why we do phased scientific testing.
Another problem with any intervention is evolution, aka resistance. Bugs have a way of finding ways around things that get in their way. Still, the scientists say, if this approach can work for a decade or so we will do much to hold the dengue explosion at bay.
I’ll be writing more later about the dengue vaccine research, which is perhaps less exciting than manipulating skeeters but perhaps more feasible.