Hugh Bollinger
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Designer mosquitos...bye-bye dengue

Dengue fever is one bad news disease. Sometimes called Breakbone Fever, I can attest to its pathologies since I caught the infection while working on a reforestation project in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) years ago. As such, I have a personal interest in Dengue's control. Dengue is carried by the mosquito-- Aedes aegypti --and is a worldwide problem endemic in more than 110 countries. When I had the disease, treatment was only bed-rest, two aspirin, isolation from other patients-- dengue causes the disappearance of white blood cells exposing you to secondary infections --and good nursing psychology since you can get delirious from the fever. You get an idea about dengue's unpleasant nature. [caption id="attachment_7052" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Aedes aegypti biting human skin (credit: Wikipedia)"][/caption] A major advance in the control and eradication of dengue has now been announced and could potentially be applied anywhere that the mosquitoes carrying the virus exist. Instead of attempting to kill the Aedes mosquito itself, researcher Scott O'Neill and researchers at Monash University in Australia infected the Aedes mosquitoes with a strain of common bacteria-- Wolbachia --that didn't kill mosquitoes, but instead interfered with the replication of the dengue virus inside the insects gut. When released around towns in tropical northern Queensland, the engineered mosquitoes passed along the beneficial bacteria. The incidence of dengue infected insects declined by over 90%. [caption id="attachment_7054" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Australian researchers with designer mosquitoes (credit: Eliminate Dengue Program)"][/caption] Releasing the Wolbachia hosting mosquitoes could now be appropriate anywhere dengue is an issue. The disease now infects between 50-100 million people worldwide and growing, with reports even occurring in South Florida, Louisiana, and coastal Texas. Biological control is an elegant approach to "tweaking" a system but the basic research needs to be done one disease or pathogen at a time. We customize tee shirts, road bikes, and any number of electronic gadgets so designer mosquitoes shouldn't be a surprise. I, for one, won't be unhappy to see dengue go bye-bye. WHB
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