Modified Mosquitoes

BSIP SA/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (MOSQUITO); COURTESY OF WORLD MOSQUITO PROGRAM (TECHNICIAN)

BLOODSUCKERS: A lab technician demonstrates the safety of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes by placing them in a special chamber and then allowing them to feed on her blood.

Scientists in Australia are winning the fight against deadly dengue fever. And they’re using an unlikely weapon: the very mosquitoes that transmit the potentially deadly tropical disease.

Researchers at the World Mosquito Program transferred bacteria called Wolbachia into a colony of mosquitoes. The bacterium is harmless to people, but mosquitoes carrying it are less likely to spread diseases like dengue. The scientists then released the infected mosquitoes into the wild in Queensland, Australia. There, they bred with other mosquitoes and passed along the bacteria. Over time, fewer mosquitoes in the area were able to transmit dengue.

“Our method is natural and self-sustaining,” says Scott O’Neill, the program’s director. His group hopes the technique can be used to eradicate, or completely wipe out, dengue worldwide.

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