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Bacteria can enhance host insect’s fertility with implications for disease control October 24, 2023 By Emily Cerf

UC Santa Cruz

October 24, 2023  By Emily Cerf
Mosquitoes and other insects can carry human diseases such as dengue and Zika virus, but when those insects are infected with certain strains of the bacteria Wolbachia, this bacteria reduces levels of disease in their hosts. Humans currently take advantage of this to control harmful virus populations across the world.

New research led at UC Santa Cruz reveals how the bacteria strain Wolbachia pipientis also enhances the fertility of the insects it infects, an insight that could help scientists increase the populations of mosquitoes that do not carry human disease.

“With insect population replacement approaches, they keep all the mosquitos and just add Wolbachia so that fewer viruses are carried in those mosquitoes and transmitted to humans when they bite them — and it's working really, really well,” said Shelbi Russell, an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering at UCSC who led this research. “If there is some fertility benefit of Wolbachia that could evolve over time, then we could use that to select for higher rates of mosquitos that suppress our viral transmission.”

These results were detailed in a new paper led by Russell, published today in the journal PLOS Biology. UCSC Professor of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology William Sullivan is the paper’s senior author.

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