1) What is Wolbachia?
Wolbachia is a one cell organism found in 60-70% of insects. It is also found in nematodes (roundworm) and spiders. It can ONLY live inside host cells, not in the environment. It cannot be transmitted between insects. Because it cannot survive outside cells, Wolbachia infections in a new host species are created by injecting the eggs using a technique called microinjection.
2) What stage is the research at currently?
Currently the research is focussing in transferring the Wolbachia into our local Aedes aegypti in the laboratory in preparation for field release of Wolbachia infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
3) How will this bacteria help to eradicate dengue?
The presence of Wolbachia infected mosquitoes in the field will inhibit development and replication of dengue virus. It also inhibits development and replication of zika and chikungunya viruses in mosquitoes.
In this context Aedes mosquitoes will be incapable of transmitting these viral diseases to humans and therefore elimination of these diseases will become a reality in time to come.
4) What is the progress of the research?
The progress of the research is:
i. In preparation of field release, we have conducted entomological surveillance to determine the Aedes mosquito density and the type of mosquito species in the field release sites.
ii. In addition we have conducted several public engagements to educate and to inform residence of this new approach to control dengue, zika and chikungunya and to obtain their consensus.
iii. Established new laboratory at Institute for Medical Research, dedicated for Wolbachia research.
iv. We invited community from identified dengue hotspots to visit the Wolbachia laboratory to enable them to obtain first-hand information and experience in Wolbachia mosquito rearing.
v. Press statement from the Malay Mail
5) Is there an estimated time frame for this research to be made successful?
The estimated time frame for this research is around 5 years from the time receiving the microinjected Wolbachia mosquito eggs to evaluation of the project.
6) What do you expect to achieve from this study?
We hope to eliminate the dengue, zika and chikungunya viruses from Aedes mosquito in the identified area. Similar studies in two (2) areas in Australia; Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale found that 15 weeks after released, 100% and 90% of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were found to be carrying Wolbachia respectively – proving that the bacteria that prevents the insects from becoming dengue-carriers could be spread easily and cheaply to wild mosquito populations.
7) When did this study begin?
This study was initiated in Jun 2016. The research is fully funded by Wellcome Trust (UK) in collaboration with University of Glasgow, United Kingdom and University of Melbourne, Australia. The Principal Investigator of this project is Professor Steve Sinkins, University of Glasgow, Scotland.