When it comes to their human impact, mosquitoes punch way above their weight. These tiny parasites spread many human diseases, including dengue fever, which infects up to 100 million people every year. Mosquito-borne diseases are notoriously hard to control, however, a new approach using Wolbachia, a common bacterium that infects the majority of insects, offers hope. Wolbachia is a selfish guest, and doesn’t like sharing. Like squatters laying their claim, the bacteria lock the door to any new tenants looking for a place to stay inside cells. And so mosquitoes already carrying Wolbachia very rarely become infected with devastating dengue virus. Areas, such as these eye cells, riddled with dengue (stained red) are virus-free when Wolbachia (stained bright green on the right) is present. Combined with the fact that Wolbachia cuts a mosquito’s lifespan in half, this enemy of the insect world could turn out to be our best friend.
Written by Jan Piotrowski