See More on Facebook

Analysis, Environment

Scientists are taking the fight to the world’s most dangerous creature

Around the world, mosquitoes are winning their war of attrition, but with the help from a tiny bacterium, scientists are fighting back.


Written by

Updated: August 27, 2019

The battle between humans and mosquitoes has been raging for centuries. For as long as humans have existed, mosquitos have been there, right alongside us, making us sick.

Dengue alone causes 390 million infections a year, and as much as 40 percent of the world’s population lives in a place where dengue is a risk. As our world’s climate changes, even more people will be exposed to these mosquitoes, and the diseases they bring with them.

When it comes to mosquito control, the traditional methods don’t appear to be standing up to the sheer scale of this challenge.

Take mosquito breeding site destruction as a strategy, for example.

“You have to only spend a short amount of time in any growing, tropical, large city and imagine that you’re going to have to find all the pools of water where mosquitoes are breeding, and you can understand the enormity of it and how impossible it is to try to remove them all,” explains Professor Scott O’Neill, a microbiologist, and the director of the World Mosquito Program, non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of mosquito borne diseases.

And as far as chemical spraying goes, O’Neill is no less pessimistic.

“What we know is that the mosquitoes that transmit dengue are progressively getting more and more resistant to the chemicals they use for control. Eventually very few of those chemicals are going to work very well anymore.”

O’Neill’s program’s approach is different. The World Mosquito Program’s strategy relies on a bacteria called Wolbachia that’s found naturally in 60 percent of insect species—but not Aedes aegypti, the primary mosquito that transmits dengue.

What scientists have found is that when this particular bacterium is introduced into that particular mosquito, it prevents the dengue virus from being able to replicate and grow, reducing the likelihood that that mosquito can pass the virus to a human.

The World Mosquito Program seeds a local area by releasing lab-raised mosquitos that have been given the Wolbachia bacteria. And everything is done with the active consent of local communities.

“We don’t operate under the assumption that just because scientists think the intervention is good that communities should just accept it,” said O’Neill.

“And if communities are not wanting, even if the government has approved it, then we don’t deploy,” he added.

The initial results are incredibly promising.

In northern Australia, where the group began releasing wolbachia infected mosquitoes in 2011, they have seen a lasting reduction in the transmission of dengue by about 98 percent.

WMP has several projects across Asia—in Sri Lanka as well as in Vietnam—but none of these projects is as big as the one in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, a city of about half a million people.

“It’s probably the largest mosquito-based clinical trial for dengue that’s ever been done,” said O’Neill.

The World Mosquito Program, in collaboration with Gadjah Mada University, has divided the city into 24 square kilometer clusters. Twelve of the clusters have received the Wolbachia-treated mosquitos and twelve have not. When the people in the are of study report to clinics and hospitals with a fever, they’re tested for dengue and enrolled in the study.

If patients test negative for dengue, they’re placed into the control group. If dengue is detected they get placed in the intervention group and are tracked according to their location to see if they live in a treated or untreated area of the city. The results of this blind study aren’t expected until the end of 2020.

But results are already coming in on another Yogyakarta study.

A simple comparison of one area of the city with Wolbachia mosquitoes to another area without those mosquitoes, suggests the intervention has led to an 80 percent reduction in dengue transmission.

Data from the World Mosquito Progam’s Vietnam site has yielded similarly sucessful results.

In studying the impact of Wolbachia on dengue transmission, scientists in Vietnam have found that Wolbachia is actually even more effective at stopping the growth and transmission of dengue in the wild than it is in laboratories.

At this point, the World Mosquito Program estimates that their intervention costs about 10USD per-person-protected.

“We believe over the next three or four years we’ll pull that number down to around 2 dollars per person protected,” said O’Neill.

And, according to cost-benefit projections created in collaboration with the United States’ Brandeis University, London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene as well as the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, fully scaled-up Wolbachia releases may end up being cost-saving for governments in the long term.

The study expects that this intervention can save governments about 50 million USD per year, which would offset the total cost of such a program in a large city within about a decade.

The World Mosquito Program has big plans for Wolbachia mosquitoes.

“We have put the intervention to over 3 million people and our goal in the next 5 years is to expand that to be over a 100 million people,” said O’Neill.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Quinn Libson
About the Author: Quinn Libson is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Environment

Gota wins Sri Lanka elections, extends olive branch to all

The race was called Sunday with the former defence chief winning. President elect, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, yesterday pledged to fully assist the Election Commission in holding elections. He made this statement at the Elections Secretariat, where the official results of Saturday’s presidential election were declared. Rajapaksa is to be sworn in at Ruwanweliseya, Anuradhapura today. He is to visit the Sri Maha Bodhi as well. Rajapaksa obtained 6,924,255 votes (52.25%) while Sajith Premadasa obtained 5,564,239 (41.99%.) Rajapaksa secured a victory margin of over 1.3 million votes. Jathika Jana Balawegaya candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayake obtained 418,553 (3.16%) votes, not enough to save his deposit. Gotabaya also emerged victorious in Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Moneragala, Ratnapura, Badulla, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Gampaha, Kandy, Matale, Polonnaruwa Colombo, Kegalle and Anuradhapura distr


By The Island
November 18, 2019

Analysis, Environment

Ayodhya: Coming full circle

Ishan Joshi writes about the recent Ayodhya verdict. Nearly 27 years to the day when as a raw 20-year-old political reporter for The Statesman I reached Ayodhya to cover the run-up to and, as it happened, the aftermath of the demolition of a medieval mosque on 6 December 1992, my primary concern was to find out whether I would get eggs for breakfast. Information I had picked up on the drive down from the state capital Lucknow to Ayodhya was that the temple town, in keeping with its status as a holy city, did no “non-veg.” Such things were important to me, then.  Now, in an effort to prolong my late youth, as it were, oats/idli/low-fat yogurt and the like are my victuals of choice for breakfast. But that’s not all that’s changed. The Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ayodhya Case last week means a Ram Temple will soon be built


By Ishan Joshi
November 18, 2019

Analysis, Environment

Let Kashmir breathe

It is the 100 day anniversary of India’s moves in Kashmir. IT is a grim milestone. Tuesday marked the 100th day of the siege of India-held Kashmir, after New Delhi clamped down on the region and did away with its special status guaranteed by the Indian constitution. Read: Occupied Kashmir marks 100 days of annexation Since then, life has become a nightmare for the Kashmiris, as they have been living under constant lockdown, their routines disrupted by the heavy hand of the Indian establishment. The matter was raised during a Senate session in Islamabad on Tuesday, with lawmakers questioning the UN’s relative silence where the suffering of Kashmiris is concerned. Former Senate chairman Farooq Naek urged the government to approach the International Court of Justice over the matter, while


By Dawn
November 15, 2019

Analysis, Environment

Death of militant heads will stunt recruitment but not kill it

ISIS has a foothold in Southeast Asia. The deaths of Malaysian militant leaders Akel Zainal and Mohd Rafi Udin will reduce the intensity of recruitment for the Islamic State (IS) but not completely kill it, says a terrorism expert. Dr Ahmad El-Muhammady, a political science lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, said the recruitment of Malaysians into the terror group might continue undetected in some cases. “Their deaths will certainly have an impact among Malaysian IS fighters. While their deaths may reduce the intensity of recruitment, it will not completely kill it, ” he said. Commenting on the power vacuum among Malaysian IS fighters in Syria following the deaths of Akel and Mohd Rafi, Dr Ahmad said there was no longer a central Malaysian figure in Syria.


By The Star
November 15, 2019

Analysis, Environment

China, India doing ‘absolutely nothing’ to clean up

Garbage they drop in sea floats into Los Angeles: Donald Trump. US President Donald Trump at the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, has said countries like China, India and Russia are doing “absolutely nothing” to clean up their smokestacks and industrial plants and the garbage that they drop in sea floats into Los Angeles. Trump also claimed that he considers himself to be, “in many ways, an environmentalist, believe it or not”. US president said that climate change is a “very complex issue.” “So…I’m very much into climate. But I want the cleanest air on the planet and I want to have – I have to have clean air – water,” Mr Trump said in remarks at the Economic Club of New York. Trump while addressing the audience said that the US withdrew from the “one-sided, horrible, horrible, economically unfair, ”close your businesses down within three


By The Statesman
November 14, 2019

Analysis, Environment

New OECD tax rule for multinationals lacks clear definitions

OECD rules are lacking for corporations around the world. A proposed system for taxing large multinationals, including global tech giants, unveiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last month has drawn mixed views on how it will impact Japanese companies. While one viewpoint is that only a limited number of companies will be subject to the new tax, the Japanese economic community expects nearly 100 domestic companies to be affected. The OECD plan is being considered because multinational enterprises, such as major digital companies that provide services across borders via the internet, are seeing rapid profit growth. The new rule will allow governments to impose taxes on companies which do not have a physical presence within their borders, such as a branch office or factory. The OECD aims to reach a broad agreement in Janu


By The Japan News
November 12, 2019