China's Fighting Zika with Bio-Engineered Mosquitoes

By Jocelyn Richards, March 2, 2016

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After the tenth case of Zika virus was reported on the mainland yesterday, China is stepping up its screening process at all borders to prevent widespread infection before the weather gets warmer. 

In addition to intensifying body screens and disinfecting airports, the country is supporting research to create sterile mosquitoes that could contain further expansion of the disease-carrying insect population.

Xi-Zhiyong

Xi Zhiyong, a professor from Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-sen University, has developed a technology to prevent and control all mosquito-born diseases, including Zika, malaria, dengue and yellow fever.

According to the Global Times, Xi and his team have produced mosquitoes that carry Wolbachia, a bacteria that stops viruses from replicating in the insect and hampers reproduction abilities. 

On February 22, Xi and his team flew to Brazil to present their technique at a five-day conference about Zika virus, co-hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Brazilian Ministry of Health. 

South China has long battled against mosquito-borne diseases, particularly dengue fever. But in recent years, Xi has worked to develop what he claims is the world’s largest mosquito factory on Shazai Island in Guangzhou, which is able to produce 20 million sterile male mosquitoes per week. 

So far, Professor Xi’s tests on the island have proven to be extremely effective. 

“We released sterile male mosquitoes which don't bite. They competed with wild males and mate with females, which laid eggs that can't develop. Gradually, the mosquito population in the island died. Male mosquitoes in nature live for two weeks, and the females can live up to four weeks.”

Xi told Global Times he expects his technology will be used on a large scale within two to three years. 

Meanwhile, a hospital in Guangzhou recently announced it decoded the gene sequence from the country’s first Zika-infected patient. 

The decoding will help scientists develop bacteria and reagents (a compound added to the system to cause a chemical reaction) as they identify variations in the disease.

The Aedes mosquito, which carries the virus, is known as the 'cockroach of mosquitoes,' since it is usually found indoors in dark, damp corners. Spraying outdoors, therefore, is not enough to prevent the species from breeding.

[Images via Sina and Science]

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