Researchers are comparing the strategy to a Trojan horse—one that may be able to help slow the spread of the Zika virus by controlling the population of the Aedes mosquitoes that transmit it. And just how would it work? By using the insects’ own gut bacteria against them, say scientists from Swansea University Medical School in the UK.
In a recent study, they looked at two different types of insects notorious for their impact on human and agricultural health: Rhodnius prolixus (also known as the ‘Kissing Bug’) and Frankliniella occidentalis, commonly called the Western Flower Thrip. By using the insects’ gut bacteria to deliver specific signals at a cellular level, they were able to disrupt gene activity linked to reproduction and effectively suppress the fertility both species—by up to 100 percent.
Based on these findings, researchers believe they can use this technique to help to reduce the spread of disease through insect population control. “The symbiotic bacteria basically do all the hard work for us,” said study author Dr. Miranda Whitten, who points out that the bacteria can carry out their unique task indefinitely without ever being detected by the insects’ immune systems.
Though costly, the treatment method has another big advantage: it can be performed without the use of toxic pesticides or other chemicals that can harm humans, animals, and other insect species.