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Wolbachia Can Block Zika Virus Transmission

FEB 25, 2017 | SARAH ANWAR
During a session on new approaches to control mosquito populations at the First International Conference on Zika Virus, Matthew Aliota, PhD, research scientist at the University of Wisconsin discussed how the Eliminate Dengue Program uses Wolbachia to impede viral transmission.
During his presentation, Dr. Aliota explained that Wolbachia are “ubiquitous intracellular bacteria,” that are naturally found in 40-60% of insect species worldwide, including many mosquito species, but not Aedes aegypti. Wolbachia can be used as a “biological control agent” to block the transmission of not just arboviruses, but all mosquito-borne pathogens. There are several Wolbachia strains, and the one currently being used by the Program, the wMel strain, has a “pathogen-blocking phenotype.” Nevertheless, Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are “completely safe,” since Wolbachia cannot be “transmitted from mosquitoes to vertebrate hosts.”
According to Dr. Aliota, Scott O’Neill, PhD, FAA, FAAAS, the Lead of the Eliminate Dengue Program, first considered controlling Dengue vectors using Wolbachia bacteria, which are able to block the transmission of all four Dengue serotypes, in 1993. The exact mechanism by which Wolbachia block viruses is still unknown to this day; however, Dr. Aliota speculates that it may be due to a “competition for resources.” For example, in an exclusive interview with Contagion®, he stated, “Wolbachia [are] really good at sucking up all of the cholesterol in a cell, and Chikungunya virus requires lots of cholesterol to package its viral particle.”
In his interview with Contagion®, Dr. Aliota explained how researchers came to discover that Wolbachia block viral transmission.


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