A mosquito waiting to be injected.
RIO DE JANERIO, BRAZIL- A clinical trial has just been released in Brazil, promising to lessen the number of Dengue Fever cases in the country. Of the thousands in attendance to receive their injection at a laboratory last week, all but the researchers were mosquitos.
Dengue Fever, a disease transmitted by any one of four viruses carried in mosquitos, affects nearly 400 million people each year, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. With those numbers, Dengue Fever has now become the leading cause of illness and death in the tropics, according to the CDC.
More specifically, Brazil alone has seen seven million of its people infected within the past 13 years, reports The Weather Channel.
Due to the large numbers of infected people, Brazilian researchers in Rio de Janerio took action to come up with a solution.
On Sept. 24, the researchers released a batch of mosquitos infected with Wolbachia into the air, reports ABC. With no glitches in the release, the researchers will continue to release ten thousand mosquitos each month for four months, all over Brazil, according to BBC.
For these researchers, the hope is that the Wolbachia bacterium will replicate and be transferred to mosquito offspring over time. After a few generations, the Dengue virus will hopefully be eradicated from the mosquito population in the tropics.
A map of the most prevalent Dengue locations.
Why it Works
Wolbachia is a bacterium found in 60 percent of insects all over the world, but it cannot be transmitted to humans, according to The Weather Channel. Absent in mosquitos, it has been discovered that when injected with Wolbachia, the Dengue strand in them is suppressed. Therefore, when a mosquito carrying the Dengue virus bites someone, if they also carry Wolbachia, that person is less likely to be effected by the Dengue virus.
Researchers are also confident in this strategy because of the reproductive properties of Wolbachia.
If a male carrying the bacterium reproduces with a female not carrying it, all of her eggs will die. Due to this inability to fertilize a healthy egg, there is no possible way for an offspring without the bacterium to be born, or an offspring at all for that matter, reports BBC.
If a male and female both carrying the bacterium reproduce, the offspring will be guaranteed to carry Wolbachia. It is not like human genes that have a 50/50 chance of appearing; the mosquito has a 100 percent chance of showing Wolbachia.
In essence, the only way for a mosquito without Wolbachia to be born is if two mosquitos with no traces of the bacterium produce.
For researchers this means after releasing the first few batches, their job is basically done. Instead of going out and collecting more mosquitos to inject, the insects do the work themselves through reproduction.
While researchers are fairly confident with the safety and success this experiment will bring to the region, they have set up precautions. In 2016, once mosquitos have had a chance to reproduce and spread across the region, there will be a large-scale study performed to report and evaluate the effectiveness of this experiment, reports BBC.
With success, it is likely that Brazil will see morality rates decline across the country.
Phoebe Moore is a Junior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. Studying Writing and Rhetoric, she hopes to pursue some sort of writing career after graduation. Outside of the classroom she is a member of the cross country team and athletic leadership core.