Australian Breakthrough Could Kill Off Disease-Carrying Mozzies

Australian Breakthrough Could Kill Off Disease-Carrying Mozzies
Image: Getty

Researchers in Australia might have found the key to eliminating bad mosquitos, with sterilisation trials proving successful among mozzies to blame for spreading dengue, yellow fever and Zika.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said researchers have shown a bacteria can successfully sterilise and eradicate the invasive, disease carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito which is responsible for spreading dengue, chikungunya (yellow fever) and Zika. The breakthrough could support the suppression and potential eradication of Aedes aegypti worldwide.

“The invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito is one of the world’s most dangerous pests, capable of spreading devastating diseases like dengue, Zika and chikungunya and responsible for infecting millions of people with disease around the world each year,” CSIRO Director of Health and Biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell said.

“Increased urbanisation and warming temperatures mean that more people are at risk, as these mosquitoes which were once relegated to areas near the equator forge past previous climatic boundaries.”

Although the majority of mosquitoes don’t spread diseases, the three mostly deadly types the Aedes, Anopheles and Culex are found almost all over the world and are responsible for around 17 per cent of infectious disease transmissions globally.

The trial involved releasing 3 million male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Northern Queensland, sterilised with bacteria called Wolbachia, across three trial sites over a 20-week period during the summer of 2018.

The sterile male insects search out and mate with wild females, but as they’re shooting blanks, this appears to be preventing the production of offspring.

The CSIRO said when they returned the following year, scientist found one of the trial sites, Mourilyan in Queensland, was almost devoid of mozzies.

mosquitoes Aedes aegypti
The Aedes aegypti (Image: CSIRO)

The technique can also be used to remove the virus-transmitting Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, that can now be found in the Torres Strait Islands.

Techniques from the trial are being used to support CSIRO-led mosquito suppression programs in French Polynesia and the Hunter region in New South Wales.

“Over 40 per cent of humans suffer from mosquito-spread diseases, so it’s an opportunity for Australia to develop environmentally-friendly mosquito control tools to tackle current and future mosquito incursions,” CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall said.

The trial was an international collaboration between the CSIRO, University of Queensland, Verily Life Sciences, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and James Cook University.