Health

Wolbachia: Bacteria that are saving lives

The World Mosquito Program injects mosquitoes with Wolbachia to protect people from viruses, like dengue

September 4, 2020
Aedes aegypti mosquito eggs lined up being injected with the Wolbachia bacteria. The World Mosquito Program has decreased dengue cases in Northern Australia dramatically, as well as in others using these bacteria. [Credit: World Mosquito Program]
Aedes aegypti mosquito eggs lined up and being injected with the Wolbachia bacteria. The World Mosquito Program has decreased dengue cases in Northern Australia dramatically, as well as in other regions using these bacteria. [Credit: World Mosquito Program] 

Could one group of bacteria be a major, long-term solution to fighting off mosquito-borne diseases around the world? The answer is yes. Wolbachia are natural bacteria that live inside over 50% of insects. These bacteria are considered harmless to humans and to the environment. Since 2011, scientists of the World Mosquito Program have been injecting these bacteria into mosquitoes to protect humans from catching dengue fever, Zika, and other tropical viruses. A. aegypti mosquitoes, the main organisms responsible for carrying diseases like dengue, receive this Wolbachia injection before they hatch.

Scientists of the World Mosquito Program were the first to discover how Wolbachia block the transmission of dengue in infected A. aegypti mosquitoes. Dengue is the most critical and the fastest-spreading, mosquito-borne illness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Wolbachia changes the environment of mosquito cells, making it difficult for viruses like dengue to replicate within the mosquito and be transmitted to humans. When a person is bitten by a Wolbachia-infected mosquito, the Wolbachia bacteria isn’t transferred to the person because these bacteria only live inside the mosquitoes’ cells. More importantly, the person bitten will not receive any viruses that this Wolbachia-infected mosquito may be carrying. 

In this podcast, Scienceline speaks with Fred Rubino, a postdoctoral researcher at New York University, who studies Wolbachia and their survival in fruit flies. Also, Cameron Simmons, Director of Impact Assessment at the World Mosquito Program, talks about how Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are made, deployed, and the current challenges of both these bacteria and controlling diseases like dengue.

Music: Did you know? (Curiouser and curiouser) by Fabian Measures, CC BY 4.0

Scienceline · Wolbachia: Bacteria that are saving lives

About the Author

Taylor is a science journalist who likes writing about health and technology. During her undergrad, she worked in labs that ranged from horseshoe crabs to studying breast cancer but later realized she enjoyed communicating science more than actually doing it. Her work has been published in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and NOVA WGBH.

Discussion

2 Comments

Delon White says:

Great article! If it were up to me every mosquito would be eliminated but this is at least a start with cutting back disease

Marian Martin says:

Very informative and easy to read as well as understand. So many of us are not familiar with most bacteria and think in terms of all bacteria being harmful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe

The Scienceline Newsletter

Sign up for regular updates.