Bug for a Bug for a Bug; March 2009; Scientific American Magazine; by Bianca Nogrady; 1 Page(s)
Even in the teeming and varied world of bacteria, Wolbachia is something of a standout. Within its insect host, the bacterium acts as a gender-bending, egg-killing, DNA-hijacking parasite that is passed down from one generation to the next via the female to her eggs. Hosted by at least one fifth of all insect species, it is possibly the most prolific parasite on earth. But now Wolbachia itself is being hijacked, to help humans gain the upper hand in the long-running war against mosquito-borne diseases.
In particular, a team at the University of Queensland in Australia and Central China Normal University in Wuhan zeroed in on a Wolbachia strain that halves the life span of its natural, fruit-fly host. The scientists have successfully introduced it into an entirely new host: Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads the virus that causes dengue fever, which produces severe, flulike symptoms and rash¿and, in its more dangerous hemorrhagic form, can be fatal in about 5 percent of cases.