Last year, scientists at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) made a big breakthrough, engineering mosquitoes that break the chain of Zika virus transmission. But they did so with multiple targets in mind, with the mosquito in question, Aedes aegypti, also acting as the number one disease vector for the dengue virus. The researchers have now added this arrow to the quiver of their genetically-modified mosquitoes, with hopes of tackling what they see as a global epidemic.
Dengue fever is a debilitating condition that can cause symptoms like rash, muscle pain, headaches and, in more serious cases, heavy bleeding and even death. The dengue virus is the culprit behind this disease, and mosquitoes that bite infected people and go on to bite others are the primary perpetrators responsible for spreading it across human populations.
“There is a pressing global demand for effective strategies to control the mosquitoes that spread the dengue virus, as there are currently no known treatments and the vaccine that is available is only partially effective,” says CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Prasad Paradkar.
Paradkar and his team have now successfully leveraged the genetic engineering advances made to produce the Zika-resistant breed of mosquitoes last year, to create the first breed of mosquitoes fully resistant to the dengue virus. While scientists have made progress toward this goal before, previously engineered mosquitoes have only exhibited resistance to one or two serotypes of the dengue virus.
“This is the first engineered approach that targets all four dengue types, which is crucial for effective disease suppression,” says Paradkar. “Mosquito-transmitted viruses are expected to climb over the coming years, which is why CSIRO is focussed on developing new ways to help solve this global challenge.”
With dengue infecting more than 390 million people around the world each year, and related economic losses estimated to be around US$40 billion a year, the breakthrough could have a major impact globally. And the hope is that the technology’s potential won’t end with dengue, but extend to tackle other forms of mosquito-borne disease, too.
“This breakthrough work also has the potential to have broader impacts on controlling other mosquito-transmitted viruses,” says study co-author, Omar Akbari, associate professor at the University of California San Diego Associate. “We are already in the early stages of testing methods to simultaneously neutralize mosquitoes against dengue and a suite of other viruses such as Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.”