Non-GM approach shows success in preventing dengue transmission
In the northeastern Australian city of Townsville, about 7000 families recently became nannies — for mosquitoes.
Each family hosted a tub of Aedes aegypti eggs in their yard, stocked with fish food to nourish their little charges as they grew and took flight. The insects were part of a project by the nonprofit World Mosquito Program, with regional hubs at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to fight annual outbreaks of dengue fever, familiar to the residents of this tropical region.
The released mosquitoes — about 4 million in all — were infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia, which reduces their ability to transmit dengue, Zika, and chikungunya viruses, and which can spread quickly through the population as these mosquitoes mate with wild ones.
The effort wasn’t designed to test how well the mosquitoes prevent the spread of dengue. Instead, the project, described in a paper published on the Gates Open Research platform, was a study of how to deploy disease-fighting mosquitoes on a city-wide scale, with the blessing of local residents.
World Mosquito Program Director Scott O'Neill, a medical entomologist at Monash University, was interviewed by Science magazine about building support for a mosquito release in his own backyard.
Asked why he thinks this effort faced less opposition than proposed releases of GM mosquitoes, O'Neill said, "I think that we probably put much more emphasis on community engagement than any of the other teams I’ve seen working with other technologies. I think it also helps us that we are not GM, so it’s easier for people to see this as a more natural intervention. There’s also, I think, a distrust of for-profit operations."
Asked if the mosquitoes prevented the spread of dengue in Townsville, O'Neill said, "Townsville had experienced local transmission outbreaks every year for 10 years preceding us doing an intervention, and in Townsville now, Wolbachia is maintaining itself quite nicely and we’ve seen no dengue transmission occurring since we started [in 2014]. This study was not set up as an experimental, epidemiological trial. We’re actually doing that in Indonesia at the moment — a randomized, controlled trial, which will read out in about 18 months. But this is showing extremely encouraging evidence as we lead up to that piece of work."
Read the complete interview in Science magazine: