As humans move into previously undisturbed ecosystems, and as climate change broadens areas where vector-transmitted diseases such as dengue fever, Zika, and Chikungunya are present, the need to monitor, detect, contain and, above all, prevent new outbreaks is paramount. Genetic modification of mosquitoes is already being tested to stop disease transmission, but are poorly accepted publicly. The opportunity to constrain disease transmitters with a new biological (non-genetic, hence possibly better accepted) method is within our grasp. This effective method is being evaluated for endorsement by the World Health Organization, while next generation advances in synthetic biology and genetic engineering are looking at even more innovative ways to constrain disease, such as modifying the human microbiome to resist such viruses.
- How should governments use and deploy methods of disease management in a responsible and socially acceptable way?
- What role should scientists and policymakers play in making sure innovative methods are understood and knowledgeably accepted or rejected by populations?
“Aedes aegpyti mosquito-transmitted diseases, like dengue, Zika and chikungunya, have become global health emergencies in recent decades. ”
“A small bacterium called Wolbachia that occurs naturally in almost 50% of all insect species but not in Aedes aegpyti can render these mosquitoes unable to transmit disease. ”
“The technique of infecting Aedes aegpyti with Wolbachia to render them harmless does not involve the sort of genetic modifications that could alarm the public, like “gene drive” techniques. ”
“An endorsement from the World Health Organization (WHO) could facilitate its adoption across the planet if governments take it up and the financial support to do so is provided. ”
“More than 10 million people in Australia have been protected as a result of testing that became a model for global projects. ”
“Even with WHO’s recommendation, more government-approved use of mosquitoes with Wolbachia around the world may need philanthropic backing to scale it up. ”
“WHO’s chief scientist says more evidence is needed before it will endorse this solution and support scaling it up in an equitable fashion to reduce the rising global burden of dengue, but some sort of recommendation – even a weak one – is likely. ”