Researchers at Swansea University Medical School, UK, believe that genetic engineering of bacteria in the gut of disease-bearing insects could help in combating the Zika virus.
The team of scientists has used friendly bacteria as a Trojan horse to deliver a ‘switch off’ command to chosen target insect genes.
This technique, involving ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi), was tested on two insect species, Kissing bug and Western Flower Thrips.
Kissing bugs are long-lived blood-sucking bugs that carry Chagas disease causing parasites and Western Flower Thrips is a very invasive agricultural pest, which has developed resistance to pesticides.
The method involved identifying an appropriate bacterium in each insect to deliver the RNAi, and had reduced fertility in the bug by 100% and increased the mortality rate of larvae by 60%.
It is claimed to target insects much more effectively than conventional pesticides, in addition to helping to tackle some of the insects and crop pests that have a devastating impact on human health and the food chain.
Swansea University Medical School professor Paul Dyson said: "New approaches are urgently needed to reduce the global burden of pest insects and to investigate insect biology and disease transmission.
"Our method could also help in the fight against the Zika virus, as the Aedes mosquito that bears it has bacteria that would be suitable."
Image: Dr Miranda Whitten and Professor Paul Dyson. Photo: courtesy of Swansea University.