In the June Scientific American Australian entomologist Scott O’Neill writes about a novel method to control mosquito-borne disease. By infecting disease-carrying mosquitoes with a common natural bacterium called Wolbachia, his team hopes to reduce dengue (aka breakbone) fever infections in humans. Bugs infected with the microbe are unable to spread dengue, a painful disease that infects 390 million people every year. There are few other options. Without a vaccine against dengue, our main defense has been slashing mosquito populations with insecticides. But the bugs are becoming increasingly resistant to those chemicals.
O’Neill and his colleagues have been experimenting with Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in controlled settings for a decade. Now, he writes, the time has come to set these infected insects free in certain locations so that they can mate with native bugs and spread Wolbachia—and thus resistance to dengue—among mosquitoes in the wild. His team is already overseeing pilot releases in Australia, Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam. This short video from his international research collaboration explains exactly how their method works.