Govt. relies on Wolbachia to control dengue

Secret research on genetically modified mosquitoes

Published - August 21, 2018 08:09 am IST - VIJAYAWADA

A mosquito sucking blood on human skin with nature background

A mosquito sucking blood on human skin with nature background

The State government has launched an experimental project to control the spread of dengue fever through genetically modified mosquitoes. It launched the project in Paderu in Visakhapatnam, where the vector-borne diseases, including dengue, are being reported every year.

As part of the 18-month project, researchers will infect Aedes aegypti mosquito with Wolbachia, a bacteria. The mosquitoes will be released into the wild where they breed with local mosquitoes and pass the bacteria to their offspring.

The Wolbachia controls the multiplication of the virus in its host — Aedes aegypti, which is primarily responsible for the cause of dengue fevers. It is necessary to infect the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in a laboratory with bacteria of the genus Wolbachia, which naturally infect many insects but not mosquitoes that cause dengue. The bacteria can inhibit the growth of other microbes in its hosts.

The Medical and Health department officials, however, have kept the project a secret. The higher-ups are reluctant to divulge the details such as funding and the research methods.

“The department plans to release a batch of 50,000 mosquitoes by September 20 into the wild,” say highly placed sources.

A batch of 1,000 infected mosquitoes would be ready by September 5. The researchers have already produced 27 mosquito offsprings from five female mosquitoes in the first batch by August 9. The first batch of nine infected mosquitoes was ready by August 30, sources say.

According to information, the bacteria is passed onto the offsprings if the infected Aedes aegypti mates with the non-infected/infected mosquito. The viruses like dengue can’t replicate when mosquitoes are infected with the bacterium. The mosquitoes with Wolbachia have a reduced ability to transmit viruses and help in decreasing the risk of dengue outbreaks, sources say.

A similar research was already launched at the Ganga Bishan Bhikulal Investment and Trading Limited (GBIT), Maharashtra, and the ICMR. The dengue is one of the notified diseases in the country. The government has been relying on methods like killing off adult mosquitoes by aerial spraying to combat dengue. Over years, it has been a consistent practice to release Gambusia fish in stagnant waters and water bodies, fogging to kill adult the mosquitoes.

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