Can researchers foil Zika-spreading mosquitoes by using bacteria as a Trojan horse?

Researchers at Swansea University in Wales are exploring a strategy to stop the mosquitoes responsible for the spread of Zika and other viruses by altering their bacteria to cripple the insects' ability to reproduce.

The technique, called symbiont-mediated RNAi, exploits a natural process in cells that silences genetic activity, in this case the genes that control fertility. However, the small size of insects makes it difficult to effectively deliver the genetic technology, a problem the Swansea team has tried to overcome by using bacteria as a delivery system.

"This technology allows us to target insects much more effectively than conventional pesticides, and without their side-effects," Paul Dyson, a Swansea University professor and co-author of the research. "Using bacteria as a Trojan horse gets round some of the problems in delivering RNAi to the insect. It is a significant advance. It can help us to tackle some of the insects and crop pests that have such a devastating impact on human health and the food chain. Our method could also help in the fight against the Zika virus, as the Aedes mosquito that bears the virus has bacteria that would be suitable." 

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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