Researchers from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have developed mosquitoes to resist infection from Dengue virus. The aim was to enhance the immunity of the mosquito in fighting Dengue before transmission. the genetically modified mosquitoes can be seen as a success in fighting dengue only if it can replace the natural population of dengue-transmitting mosquitoes
The newly engineered mosquitoes were able to combat dengue infection however they did not show resistance to Zika or chikungunya. However, this is viewed as a step in the right direction among scientists and health experts as preventive measure occupy a key role in the absence of specialized treatments and vaccines. Dr. Dimopoulos said, “It will guide us on how to make mosquitoes resistant to multiple types of viruses. Ideally, you want a mosquito that is resistant to other viruses as well.”
Researchers noted that the mosquitoes from natural habitats, in fact, mount an immune system response when exposed to dengue but are too weak to stop transmission. The genetically bred mosquitoes were developed for mounting a strong immune response and this was done by manipulating the Janus kinase/signal transducers and activators of transcription (JAK/STAT) pathway in the mosquitoes’ immune system, that regulates the production of antiviral factors.
The findings of the study were published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases in an article titled “Engineered Aedes aegypti JAK/STAT Pathway-Mediated Immunity to Dengue Virus” The researchers are looking forward to engineer mosquitoes in which antiviral factors can be produced in the gut. This would assist in inducing a stronger immune response and possibly confer resistance to the other viruses as well.
As always, genetic engineering and GMOs have their fair share of controversies in the past few years. The team is keen on getting the extensive lab and semi-field studies right before letting the mosquitoes wander in the wild. One needs to acknowledge if this project is feasible, people in the tropical regions would get lasting protection without medicines or vaccination.