Dengue fever is the most important mosquito-borne viral disease of humans with more than 50 million cases estimated annually in more than 100 countries. Disturbingly, the geographic range of dengue is currently expanding and the severity of outbreaks is increasing. Control options for dengue are very limited and currently focus on reducing population abundance of the major mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti. These strategies are failing to reduce dengue incidence in tropical communities and there is an urgent need for effective alternatives. It has been proposed that endosymbiotic bacterial Wolbachia infections of insects might be used in novel strategies for dengue control. For example, the wMelPop-CLA Wolbachia strain reduces the lifespan of adult A. aegypti mosquitoes in stably transinfected lines. This life-shortening phenotype was predicted to reduce the potential for dengue transmission. The recent discovery that several Wolbachia infections, including wMelPop-CLA, can also directly influence the susceptibility of insects to infection with a range of insect and human pathogens has markedly changed the potential for Wolbachia infections to control human diseases. Here we describe the successful transinfection of A. aegypti with the avirulent wMel strain of Wolbachia, which induces the reproductive phenotype cytoplasmic incompatibility with minimal apparent fitness costs and high maternal transmission, providing optimal phenotypic effects for invasion. Under semi-field conditions, the wMel strain increased from an initial starting frequency of 0.65 to near fixation within a few generations, invading A. aegypti populations at an accelerated rate relative to trials with the wMelPop-CLA strain. We also show that wMel and wMelPop-CLA strains block transmission of dengue serotype 2 (DENV-2) in A. aegypti, forming the basis of a practical approach to dengue suppression.
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