Researchers from Swansea University have published a new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B detailing a new technique of controlling disease vectors by manipulating the bacteria in their guts to destroy the disease-bearing insects, and using the same approach to destroying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmitting Zika virus.
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This research became more necessary since the World Health Organization (WHO) asked for everything to be done, including using genetic technology, to overcome Zika epidemic in Asia, South America and throughout the world.
To target the insect bearing diseases, scientists utilized its RNAi – a natural process that cells use to turn down or silence the activity of specific genes, those that control fertility for example.
Scientists in previous studies showed the ability to inject RNAi into insects, but effective delivery into tiny insects was a big challenge, not to mention the fact that the method is expensive and time-consuming. But using the symbiont-mediated RNAi technique, scientists can use symbiotic or friendly bacteria living in the guts of insects as the Trojan horse for delivering the RNAi which performs the expected action in the targeted insects.
During lab tests, the technique suppressed fertility in the Kissing bug 100%, and raised the larvae mortality rate of western flower thrips by 60%.
The kissing bug infects about 8 million people in Central and South America with Chagas disease, and the western flower thrips destroys farm crops and grows resistant to powerful pesticides.
"It is expected that symbiont-mediated RNAi would be effective in other insect species. The unifying prerequisite is that the insects harbor culturable symbionts, a criterion already known to be met by many globally important insect species such as Aedes and Anopheles mosquitoes, tsetse flies, white fly and honeybees," the research team wrote.
An additional benefit of this RNAi delivery technique is that it does not harm other insects or plant pollinators because only the disease-bearing insect is targeted. It also does not carry the risk of environmental damage or harm to human health; and insects do not acquire resistance to it as they do to chemical pesticides.
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The research was led by Professor Paul Dyson of Swansea University Medical School and Dr. Miranda Whitten of Swansea University College of Science. The study was funded by the Gates Foundation.