Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to combat dengue

Photo: www.imr.gov.my via Bernama

GEORGE TOWN: Penang has released mosquitoes infected with a harmless bacterium known as Wolbachia, to reduce the population of wild dengue-transmitting aedes mosquitoes.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the pilot project was carried out on Nov 19 last year in eight locations in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

He said three out of the eight locations were located in Penang, namely in Inderawasih Flat in the Seberang Perai Tengah district, Taman Manggis Flat in the Timur Laut district and Bukit Gedung Flat in the Barat Daya district.

“As much as 433,500 eggs of the aedes mosquito injected with the Wolbachia bacteria was supplied by the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) and was placed in the testing locations (during the pilot programme),” he said in his speech at the Penang state-level launch of the Wolbachia-infected aedes mosquitoes pilot project at Bukit Gedung Flat, near here, today.

He added that the replacement strategy of wild mosquitoes carrying lethal viruses to Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes would be a massive game-changer if proven effective.

Photo: www.imr.gov.my via Bernama

Meanwhile, Penang Health, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry and Rural Development committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said a 200-metre buffer zone was set up on the testing grounds to prevent any fogging activities there during the project.

He said fogging in the testing area would ruin the project by killing off the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes.

“In the long term, if the project is proven effective, then there is no need to carry out fogging in the particular areas,” he said.

Wolbachia, or Wolbachia pipientis, is a type of bacteria that can be found in insects and proven to be harmless towards humans, animals and the environment.

According to IMR, the release of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Malaysia was undertaken to render wild mosquito populations unable to transmit dengue, Zika or chikungunya virus.

The concept was that wild female mosquitoes are unable to have any offspring after mating with male Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes. 

On the other hand, female Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes would always give birth to Wolbachia-infected offspring, regardless of which male mosquito it mated with. 

The research experiment was also conducted in nine other countries, including Singapore, Brazil, India and the United States, but only Malaysia and Australia have carried out operations to reduce the population of mosquitoes carrying lethal viruses. – Bernama