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Bacteria genes offer new strategy for sterilizing mosquitoes

Genetic engineering could deplete populations of disease-carrying insects

By
11:00am, February 27, 2017
wolbachia bacteria

STERILITY CULPRITS  Wolbachia bacteria (red) effectively sterilize male insects by infecting the testes (blue, a wasp's testes shown at 100 times magnification). Now, researchers have identified genes that may be responsible for the sterility.

A pair of bacterial genes may enable genetic engineering strategies for curbing populations of virus-transmitting mosquitoes.

Bacteria that make the insects effectively sterile have been used to reduce mosquito populations. Now, two research teams have identified genes in those bacteria that may be responsible for the sterility, the groups report online February 27 in Nature and Nature Microbiology.

“I think it’s a great advance,” says Scott O’Neill, a biologist with the Institute of Vector-Borne Disease at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. People have been trying for years to understand how the bacteria manipulate insects, he says.

Wolbachia bacteria “sterilize” male mosquitoes through a mechanism called cytoplasmic incompatibility, which affects sperm and eggs. When an infected male breeds with an uninfected female, his modified sperm kill the eggs after fertilization. When he mates with a

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