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Feature Vectorborne diseases

The mosquito factory fighting disease

BMJ 2023; 383 doi: (Published 11 October 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;383:p2082
  1. Mun-Keat Looi

Mosquitoes infected with bacteria are becoming a cost-effective way to stop some of the greatest disease threats in the world, including dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses. Mun-Keat Looi visits the sites where these are “made”

The stench of pond water is overwhelming. In this room in a nondescript warehouse, millions of tiny dots squiggle across drawer upon drawer of water packed almost as high as the ceiling. This is the World Mosquito Programme’s (WMP) breeding facility in Medellin, Colombia, one of several all over the world.

A door opens to another room full of nets. Multiple sleeves, big enough for an arm but tied like a tourniquet, hang from each side. The roof of each net is stained with dried red patches. Our guide points to the top and invites us to peer over as she lifts up a blood bag—the remnants of a tasty meal for the 30 million mosquitoes the facility breeds each week (video 1).1

Video 1

Inside a mosquito factory

WMP, a non-profit research institute, has been working for the past two decades to eradicate certain parasite and virus diseases by targeting the insects that carry them. It’s not a new idea,2 and for some the idea of genetically modifying mosquitoes to prevent them breeding is a touchy subject, so the WMP approach is more palatable.

The “how” is a solution of the bacteria Wolbachia, touted since 2009 when Australian scientists showed that it prevents the transmission of dengue, chikungunya, and other human disease-causing viruses by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.3

Positive results

The idea is to introduce Wolbachia, which are not usually found in the main mosquito …

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