New approach to tackling mosquito-borne disease in the Hunter

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

New research to tackle one of Australia’s most prolific mosquitos, responsible for spreading most cases of Ross River virus, has commenced in the Hunter Region of New South Wales.

Dr Toby Mills

The three-year project, between the University of Newcastle, Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, the NSW Department of Health and the University of Melbourne, will use genomic sequencing to inform suppression strategies for the Aedes vigilax mosquito.

The Aedes vigilax is one of the most widespread mosquito species in Australia predominantly originating from coastal wetlands like salt marshes, mangroves and swamps.

It can fly many kilometres within a lifetime and spreads the Ross River virus, the most reported mosquito-borne disease in Australia with more than 4,000 cases reported yearly.

CSIRO research scientist Dr Brendan Trewin said the project would be underpinned by new advances in genomic sequencing.

“Advances in technology mean we can sequence tiny amounts of DNA to track genetic differences of individual mosquito genomes and find distinct populations – a technique which has not been applied to this species before,” Dr Trewin said.

“This information will provide the foundation for the next phase of the project, which will assess the feasibility of controlling the Hunter Aedes vigilax population with Wolbachia, a natural bacteria which has been successfully used to suppress vector-borne disease in over 13 countries including here
in Australia.”

Using this genomic sequence approach, the team will be able to look at closely related mosquito populations in finer detail and determine relationships within and between populations in the Hunter estuary, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens and throughout Australia.

The University of Newcastle is situated in the Hunter River estuary, a large wetland area, providing an ideal location to study the population genomics of Aedes vigilax.

Dr Toby Mills, researcher from the University of Newcastle’s School of Environmental and Life Sciences, said the study was an important step towards informing decision making efforts to control mosquito populations in the Hunter and elsewhere across Australia.

“The project is a part of the University of Newcastle’s Grand Challenge, to reduce the burden that mosquitoes impose on human health and lessen the nuisance factor inflicted by mosquitoes in urban areas, including the Callaghan campus,” Dr Mills said.

“Following on from the collaborative genomics and trapping program we will also be running a bi-monthly surveillance program through autumn, winter and spring to identify the presence of the mosquito ‘off-season’.

“In addition, we have developed an insectary and established Aedes vigilax colonies to further the research aims of the project.”

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.