Microbes in the News Assignment: Post #1

Article and link: “Zika-Fighting Sterile Mosquitoes Released Near Key West’, NBC News, April 19, 2017.


Summary: This article aims to describe the testing of new experimental methods for the reduction of Aedes aegypti mosquito populations, a species which has been previously linked to the spread of multiple diseases, including the Zika virus. The ultimate goal of this testing is to control the spread of the Zika virus through controlling these insect vector populations. One such method has recently been tested in Key West, Florida, where lab-raised male mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia spp. of bacterium were released into habitats known to harbor populations of Aedes aegypti. The lab-raised male mosquitoes will breed with the wild female mosquitoes; however, due to the Wolbachia spp. carried by the male parent, the young produced by this coupling cannot survive to adulthood. While this method involves the use of microbes, there is another technique mentioned which instead involves genetic modification of lab-raised male mosquitoes to obtain a similar result.

Connections: This article related to the material in class through its association with Zika virus, which was covered both in our course material and also in the guest lecture given by Dan Stinchcomb. The use of these microbes by humans to alter a detrimental aspect of an environment is also an example of microbes functioning in environmental bioremediation, another topic covered in class.

Critical analysis: I found this method for mosquito population control extremely interesting. We had learned in class that certain microbes can be used to confer certain health benefits to a host organism through the transfer of particular genes, but I had not yet heard much of this particular strategy involving using members of a population as hosts for the microbe with the aim of stopping the spread of a disease from an insect vector to a human population. Both this method as well as the genetic engineering process mentioned towards the end of the article, if such methods prove effective in their goal and also harmless to the environment, would be extremely useful in inhibiting the spread of the Zika virus and thereby preventing further human infections.

This article was written in such a way as to inform the general public. As such, the scientific details and mechanisms behind the ideas discussed are not mentioned in great detail. In terms of the limited scientific details provided, I believe the article was scientifically accurate, though somewhat vague. The explanation of the science involved was somewhat simplified, and I did not detect any confusing aspects. While I personally feel that they could have included more detail behind the processes mentioned, I can see that the inclusion of too much detail could have been confusing to someone not well-versed in biological concepts. I think the article adequately communicated the highlights of the science to the public, as it stuck to the main ideas and results of the testing in an attempt to be clear and to communicate their ideas effectively.

Question: What is the mechanism by which Wolbachia spp. inhibits the development of the next generation of mosquito? Would the inhibition of mosquito populations through such methods reduce their numbers to the point where other organisms in the food chain might be affected (most specifically those organisms in the food chain which utilize mosquitoes as a food source)? In reference to the genetic engineering method for the control of mosquito population, what is altered or added in the genome of the mosquitoes in order to obtain the desired effect?

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