IU study could help prevent insect-spread diseases



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The study authors are, from left, IU assistant professor Irene Garcia Newton, IU Ph.D. student Tamanash Bhattacharya and IU professor Richard Hardy. Bhattacharya holds a container with flies used in the study. (Courtesy Photo of Indiana University) Buy Photos

IDS Reports

A recent IU study may explain how a bacterium prevents mosquitoes from spreading deadly diseases.

The study, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, identifies why mosquitoes infected with the bacterium Wolbachia are unable to transmit diseases like dengue fever, West Nile virus and Zika to humans, according to an IU Newsroom press release.

Irene Garcia Newton, assistant professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, led the study.

“There’s a real argument that some parts of the world are so strongly affected by these diseases that we need to try everything we can right away,” she said.

Environmental change is predicted to cause increased spread of insect-borne diseases in North America over the next few decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wolbachia-infected 
mosquitoes have already been released in parts of the world. The process, called “pathogen blocking,” was recently implemented in Florida to stop the spread of Zika. Pathogen blocking could also help block viruses like chikungunya and yellow fever.

In the future, the 
methods could be developed to perform the same mechanism without using Wolbachia. The long-term effects of the bacterium are unknown. Viruses could become resistant to the bacterium if Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are released on a large scale.

In the lab, Newton and colleagues worked with fruit flies infected with Wolbachia and the Sindbis virus. The Sindbis virus is easier and safer to work with than other diseases like Zika or West Nile virus.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases partially supported the study.

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