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QIMR Berghofer helps map the genetic makeup of disease-spreading mosquito

QIMR Berghofer scientists have helped map the most complete genetic picture of the potentially deadly Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The international breakthrough could in future help stop the spread of debilitating mosquito borne viruses.

Aedes aegypti, which is commonly known as the “dengue mosquito” in north Queensland, transmits dengue fever, Zika virus, chikungunya and yellow fever.

“It’s one of the most widespread disease-carrying mosquitoes around the world, putting at risk more than half the global population, which amounts to billions of people,” QIMR Berghofer researcher Gordana Rasic said.

Dr Rasic and Igor Filipovic, from QIMR Berghofer’s Mosquito Control Laboratory, are the only Australian scientists involved in the study that has been published today in the prestigious journal Nature.

The collaboration involved 71 scientists from seven countries and was led by researchers from The Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical institute in the US.

The project mapped the genome of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, providing an almost-complete blue print of its genes.

“This is a resource that will significantly improve our chances of controlling these mosquitoes and preventing the diseases they transmit,” Dr Rasic said.

“The group identified many new genes, such as those that affect who mosquitoes target to bite, and what genes make them resistant to insecticides.

“Our role at QIMR Berghofer was to find the genes that make the Aedes aegypti such efficient transmitters of dengue.

“For more than a decade, we’ve been hampered by a lack of a true understanding of the genetic makeup of these mosquitoes, which is when the first parts of the genome were mapped.

“It was like working with a really big puzzle and we weren’t sure if all the pieces were there and how they fit.

“We have now connected the pieces, which will accelerate the work of all scientists working on this mosquito.”

The international collaboration was formed just over two years after the outbreak of Zika virus in South and Central America in 2016 and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) declaration of a Public Health Emergency.

“We joined forces to work on it because no single researcher could have done it alone,” Dr Rasic said.

“The progress was very rapid and testament to how well scientists can work together when they have an urgent common goal.

“The Aedes aegypti is not just an overseas problem, these mosquitoes are responsible for all dengue transmission in mainland Australia.

“They also threaten to invade Brisbane from their existing strongholds in central and Northern Queensland, and our ports and airports are under constant risk of these mosquitoes arriving from overseas.

“They’re a nasty pest and disease carrier and we were really excited to be part of such an important project that opens avenues for new ways to prevent the spread of deadly viruses.”

QIMR Berghofer’s Mosquito Control Lab is the largest and best-resourced in the southern hemisphere, allowing it to be a key partner in international mosquito control studies.

Quick Facts:

  • The Aedes aegypti mosquito is commonly known around the world as the Yellow Fever mosquito.
  • There are no drugs available for combating mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
  • The only dengue vaccine available offers very limited protection.
  • Queensland Health has confirmed four dengue outbreaks in the state since 2017.
  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mosquitoes are one of the deadliest animals in the world and cause millions of deaths every year.
  • According to the WHO, the worldwide incidence of dengue has risen 30-fold in the past 30 years, and more countries are reporting their first outbreaks of the disease.
  • Chikungunya is in over 60 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
  • There have been only four WHO Public Health Emergencies announced since inception in 2005: swine flu 2009, polio 2014, Ebola 2014, Zika 2016.
  • Zika virus outbreaks have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.