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The challenge

Hundreds of millions of people suffer from dengue every year

Dengue infects more than 390 million people every year globally, and cause global economic losses of $40 billion a year. Typical symptoms of the virus include severe fever, headaches and muscle aches, with severe forms of the disease leading to haemorrhage, shock and even death.

Large outbreaks are occurring in Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. There are currently no known treatments, and the vaccine against dengue is only partially effective.

While the dengue-carrying mosquito Aedes aegypti is currently only present in northern Queensland, local outbreaks are possible and mosquito-transmitted viruses are expected to increase around the world in coming years. Finding solutions to hamper the spread of dengue is a global challenge.

Our response

We engineered mosquitoes resistant to spreading all four types of dengue

In partnership with the University of California San Diego, we engineered a breed of genetically modified mosquitoes resistant to spreading the dengue.

In this study, dengue-resistant mosquitoes were given a red-eye gene so researchers could distinguish them from regular mosquitoes.

Following on from our recent work with the University to engineer a mosquito resistant to spreading the devastating Zika virus, this project used recent advances in genetic engineering technologies to successfully genetically modify the Aedes aegypti mosquito with reduced ability to acquire and transmit the dengue virus.

The mosquitoes were tested in the quarantined insectary at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, our national biocontainment facility designed to allow scientific research into the most dangerous infectious agents in the world.

While there have been previous attempts to synthetically engineer dengue-carrying mosquito populations to make them resistant to the virus, our research paper published in PLOS Pathogens shows this is the first to target all four of the major types of dengue.

The results

Genetic approaches could eventually help in the fight against dengue

While we still need to investigate further, this engineered mosquito could potentially one day be used to replace wild populations of Aedes aegypti, adding to the arsenal of control strategies needed to reduce the disease risk to Australians and people throughout the world.

We are now in the early stages of testing methods to simultaneously neutralise mosquitoes against dengue and a suite of other viruses such as Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.

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