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UGM researcher: Wolbachia can only live in insects

MidLand, Jakarta – Researcher from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) Adi Utarini stated that Wolbachia bacteria can only live in insect body cells. Therefore, she said, there is no risk of triggering new diseases that could threaten human health.

“Wolbachia is a bacterium that can only live in the bodies of insects, including mosquitoes, and cannot survive outside the cells of insect bodies,” said Adi Utarini through the Ministry of Agriculture’s Office of Communications and Public Services. Indonesian healthcare in Jakarta, Sunday November. 19 2023.

This is known based on the results of research conducted since 2011 with a team from the Faculty of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing at UGM and the World Mosquito Program (WMP). Research was conducted to demonstrate the effectiveness of Wolbachia bacteria in reducing dengue cases in Indonesia.

Adi Utarini, known as Uut, said that neither Wolbachia nor the mosquito that hosts it are organisms resulting from genetic modification carried out in the laboratory. This is because the genetic material used by mosquitoes and Wolbachia bacteria is identical to naturally occurring organisms.

“Wolbachia is not genetic engineering, because it cannot replicate without the help of its insect host. This is a natural characteristic of the Wolbachia bacterium that was found naturally in the body of the Aedes Albopictus mosquito,” he said.

Uut said Wolbachia is found naturally in more than 50% of insects and has the characteristics of being a symbiont or having no negative impact on its host.

“Apart from that, a risk analysis carried out by 20 independent scientists in Indonesia concluded that the risk of adverse effects on humans or the environment was negligible,” Uut added.

The Ministry of Health is implementing Wolbachia’s technological innovation to reduce the spread of dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) in Indonesia.

The Wolbachia technology used is implemented using a “replacement” method, meaning that male and female Wolbachia mosquitoes are released into natural populations.

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The goal is for female mosquitoes to mate with local mosquitoes and produce mosquito pups containing Wolbachia. “Eventually, almost all mosquitoes in natural populations will have Wolbachia,” Uut said.

Wolbachia plays a role in blocking the replication of the dengue virus in the mosquito’s body. “As a result, mosquitoes containing Wolbachia are no longer able to transmit the dengue virus when they suck the blood of people infected with the dengue virus,” she said.

Considering that Wolbachia is found in mosquito eggs, Uut explained, the bacteria will be passed from one generation of mosquitoes to the next.

“Consequently, the protective impact of Wolbachia against dengue transmission is sustainable,” he said.

From the study results, Uut said the Wolbachia approach has been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of dengue fever and the need for hospitalization for sufferers.

“This reduction will obviously have a significant impact on cost savings in dengue control for countries that implement it,” he said.

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