Targeting Mosquitoes for Low Cost Diagnostics

Mosquitoes are notorious for their ability to transmit diseases from one person to another. They have come to be a source of fear, as they carry concerning illnesses such as Malaria, the Zika Virus, and the West Nile Virus. Diagnostics for such conditions can cost a large sum of money, meaning that those living in undeveloped nations rely on symptoms to determine if they carry a disease. However, it has been difficult to eradicate the pests carrying these diseases in a short amount of time because it is hard to determine which ones will transmit illnesses, not to mention the fact that mosquitoes breed quite quickly. However, researchers are hoping to remedy the problem by shedding light, literally, on which mosquitoes carry these certain diseases.

Engineers at Sandia National Laboratories have created a way to scan insects for viruses such as the West Nile Virus, and they are hoping to soon add Zika Virus to the list of diseases their technology can detect. They managed to use an isothermal nucleic acid amplification technique to lower the cost of discovering whether or not mosquitoes carry a certain disease, and also to pinpoint which disease is present specifically. The researchers’ RT-LAMP uses fragment sequences of DNA to complete this seemingly impossible task. They have managed, with this technique, to drastically cut down on cost and false positives.

Right now, discovering if an insect carries a disease, and identifying which disease, can take a long time. Insect samples must be gathered and sent to a lab, in which PCR techniques are used. This new method being used by these researchers, however, makes a diagnosis possible within one hour. Field workers, with this quick information, can decide if they should focus on eradicating a certain area of mosquitoes to cut down on the spread of diseases.

One of the most useful things about this new technology is that, with some trial and error, it can be adapted to detect a vast number of diseases. It is now on the cusp of being able to detect the Zika Virus, for example, which only recently became a known condition. The ability to distinguish between such illnesses is also pertinent because each must be treated in different ways.

Currently, the team of researchers is moving the technology forward by attempting to have it screen more than one targeted sample at a time. Hopefully, in time, this will provide field workers in all countries and environments to determine quickly if a mosquito population is carrying diseases and if it should, therefore, be eradicated.