Taking the sting out of insect disease

October 31, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Queensland researchers have made a discovery that could open up a new front in the fight against insect-transmitted diseases.

Insect virologist Dr Karyn Johnson, and her colleagues from UQ's School of Integrative Biology, have found a certain type of bacteria, Wolbachia, can actually protect flies from mortality caused by pathogenic viruses.

The study will be published in prestigious scientific journal Science today.

"This is the first time such an interaction has been found," Dr Johnson said.

She said the team used Wolbachia infected vinegar flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and injected them with a virus that is fatal to the insects.

"Usually we would expect a bacterial infection may compromise the fly making it more susceptible to other pathogens, but what we found was Wolbachia protected the insects," she said.

"This interaction is particularly interesting as Wolbachia is very common in insects. If this type of interaction is wide-spread there could be significant implications for the way viruses are maintained in insect populations.

"The potential impact of this research on the transmission of insect borne disease is exciting."

Dr Johnson said the next stage of the research would be to find the mechanism of how the bacteria protects the flies from the virus.

"In the short term we will be looking at whether this effect extends to different insects, and whether it works on different viruses," she said.

"But long term, if we can work out that mechanism and then harness it we might have a new range of control strategies for insect-transmitted diseases."

Provided by University of Queensland

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