Researchers from Johns Hopkins University successfully modified mosquitoes to render them highly resistant to dengue virus – a disease responsible for nearly 25,000 deaths each year. Their breakthrough could lead to even more resistant mosquitoes in the future, potentially ending the war on mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Each year, roughly 390 million people are infected by dengue virus through mosquito bites. The WHO classifies dengue as an emerging disease, putting already half of the global population at risk of contracting it. It exhibits flu-like symptoms, including severe fever and organ impairment, which can lead to early death if not treated immediately. The scary thing is, there are many, many more mosquito-transmitted diseases similar to it, including Zika, Malaria and Yellow fever.

On the bright side, PLOS: Neglected Tropical Diseases reports the new genetically-modified mosquitoes, produced by the American researchers, could be the answer. The group overexpressed proteins “Dome” and “Hop” in the insects´ fatty tissues, which led to the activation of the conservative JAK/STAT immune pathway. This basically shifted the mosquitoes’ innate antiviral defences to hyper-drive, causing roughly 80% of subjects to develop resistance. Pretty clever, right?

The modified mosquitoes exhibited the same longevity as their wild-type counterparts, but they did show an undesirably low degree of fertility. However, this is only a proof-of-concept, and other advances are expected in the future.

“Recently developed powerful mosquito gene-drive systems that are under development are likely to make it possible to spread pathogen resistance in mosquito populations in a self-propagating fashion, even at a certain fitness cost” authors of the study concluded.

Learn more about the dengue virus disease in the video bellow:

Featured image by Jared Belson.

By Luka Zupančič, MSc, University of Applied Sciences Technikum Vienna