Creighton Researcher Emphasizes Insects' Roles in Recent Virus Outbreaks

Tiny as it is, the mosquito is an inveterate pest capable of creating mild, itchy aggravation or widespread illness and inspiring countless campaigns for its eradication. Easy as it is to blame for such epidemics as the current Zika and Chikungunya outbreaks, it’s not entirely the mosquito that’s responsible — the bug is just a vessel or, in biological terms, a vector. In fact, as research being done by Creighton University’s Carol Fassbinder-Orth, PhD, is showing, targeting not just the mosquito, but the virus residing in the insect could aid in preventing or predicting outbreaks similar to those in South America and Africa.

By taking aim at the genetics of the virus while it’s in the insect vector, Fassbinder-Orth is hoping to show how stepping back from the study of the virus in a human host and looking at its origin in a mosquito or other insect vector could help break the chain of the virus’ transmission.

“To be able to understand how the replication dynamics are occurring in these insect vectors would be the ideal,” says Fassbinder-Orth, an associate professor of zoonotic diseases in the Department of Biology. “Then, to be able to utilize RNA interference or another molecular technique to interfere with the replication process or even turn the virus against itself, that could help us predict something like what we’re seeing with Zika or Chikungunya and stop it before the crisis develops.”

The two mosquito species that carry Zika and Chikungunya, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, have made their way to the United States, with Aedes albopictus reaching an invasive distribution across much of the Eastern and Southern U.S.

Fassbinder-Orth is hoping continued research, aided by an NIH IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) grant will help her lab look at wider samples of the insects and get a better handle on how best to interrupt the virus’ replication process or encourage defective particles to develop in the virus might help slow or stop its growth in a mosquito and thereby lessen its impact on human populations.

“We want to know as much about these insects as possible,” she says. “It’s a long way from a final application step, but it is a basic science step and we have to start there in order to have a potential end result.”

Source: Creighton University 

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