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Red-eyed mosquitoes engineered to break the chain of Zika virus transmission

Date: 6.2.2019 

Scientists in Australia are looking at some pretty creative ways to tackle the Zika virus, which continues to pose a risk to millions across Africa, Asia and parts of the Americas. Following a trial last year where researchers were able to decimate disease-spreading mosquitos in the country's north, scientists have now demonstrated an engineering technique that renders the biggest transmitter of the virus largely immune to it, raising hopes of a new way to control the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Kredit: CSIRO.The trials conducted last year were the result of a collaboration between Australia's James Cook University, scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and US mosquito-rearing startup Verily. The scientists set out to reduce the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in northern Queensland by infecting them with a naturally occurring bacterium, and were able to do so with great success.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the not only the biggest transmitter of the Zika virus, it is also the number one disease vector for dengue fever, a carrier of yellow fever and of course the big one, malaria. For this reason, scientists have been attempting to use genetic engineering to limit the damage for some time, though never in this way specifically.

The scientists did this by injecting a synthetic anti-Zika gene into the mosquitoes during the embryo stage, along with another gene to give them red eyes so they could be differentiated from the others. Interestingly, this somewhat spooky technique is commonly used in genetic engineering research as a means of identification, including an effort to block the spread of mosquito-borne malaria back in 2015.

 


 

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