Dengue resistant mosquitoes

Scientists engineer mosquitoes immune to the deadly virus and stop them from passing it on to people

Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue fever

The Daily Mail reported a couple of days ago that scientists have managed to engineer mosquitoes immune to dengue. Experts were able to stop dengue viruses infecting mosquitoes in the first instance. The research was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, describing how they hey did this by implanting immune system proteins which destroy all four strains of the dengue virus. When mosquitoes were not infected themselves they were not able to pass on the disease through bites.

Working in a lab, mosquitoes were infected with human immune system proteins which stopped the virus from multiplying inside the mosquito, meaning it never became strong enough to be transmitted. This stopped the disease spreading among the insects, and by engineering their genes to make sure those with the antibodies inside them were successful breeders, researchers said it would be possible to make this immunity spread through the wild population of the insects.

Dengue, which famously (but fortunately briefly) visited the island of Madeira in 2012-13 threatens the health and lives of millions of people living in tropical countries, causing fever, vomiting and deadly bleeding. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the main transmitter leaving around 500,000 needing hospital treatment each year. The dengue virus, for which there is currently no known cure, is generally mild and passes in around a week. Symptoms normally include fever, a severe headache, nausea and vomiting.

Breakthrough applies to all four strains of dengue

The breakthrough marks the first time that all four types of the dengue virus have been targeted through engineering mosquitoes. Previous attempts had only managed to tackle single strains.

Professor Luke Alphey, head of arthropod genetics at the Pirbright Institute, which investigates the spread of infectious diseases, was not involved with the research but told MailOnline it was a ‘big deal’. ‘This sort of work has worked on one virus at a time,’ he said. ‘The principle that this approach could give you broad spectrum resistance to these viruses [all four types of dengue] is really exciting.’

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