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Diagnostic tool detects disease-carrying mosquitoes

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Zika virus PHOTO:AFP

Researchers investigating the pathogens that transmit Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever would heave a sigh of relief, as a new diagnostic tool that detects these microorganisms has been developed.

The tool uses a smartphone camera, a small 3D-printed box and a simple chemical test to show if a dead mosquito belongs to the Aedes aegypti species, which carries Zika and other devastating viruses that afflict an estimated 100 million people worldwide each year.

The species is also closely linked to the tripling of cases of mosquito-borne diseases in the United States since 2004.

The new diagnostic tool, known as a loop-mediated isothermal amplification and oligonucleotide strand displacement, or LAMP OSD, the probe delivers a simple yes-or-no readout on a cellphone, with accuracy greater than 97 percent.

The simple test can be done anywhere by testing mosquitoes’ nucleic acid without requiring a complicated process to remove it.

The diagnostic tool, developed by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin according to studies can “easily, quickly and cheaply identify whether a mosquito belongs to the species that carries dangerous diseases such as Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever.”

It can also detect the presence of a biopesticide called Wolbachia, which a type of bacteria that keeps mosquitoes from spreading diseases.

Meanwhile, in countries around the world and in 20 states in the United States where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are found, scientists, working in public health agencies have started to infect mosquitoes in with Wolbachia by introducing the bacteria into a local mosquito population to help curb transmission of viruses.

The research appeared in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Research associate in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and first author on the paper, Sanchita Bhadra, said: “Many of these diseases are spreading in areas where they weren’t common before. Having surveillance is important in conjunction with any kind of outbreak, and this method allows a rapid test in the field.”

According to Bhadra, “because mosquitoes show no outward signs of having the bacteria, and existing diagnostic tests hard to read, expensive and logistically cumbersome, the new tool represents a significant step forward for those hoping to monitor the effectiveness of Wolbachia.”

Other researchers involved in the study were Primary Investigator, Andrew Ellington; professor of Molecular Biosciences and the Associate Director of UT Austin’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, Tim Riedel; Research Educator for the DIY Diagnostics research stream of the Freshman Research Initiative, Nicole Pederson; former DIY Diagnostics student, Miguel Saldaña and Shivanand Hegde of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston; and Grant Hughes of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

The project received funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, John S. Dunn Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation.


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