A Research Blog

Mosquitoes

Dengue and chikungunya are mosquito-borne diseases that are currently re-emerging as public health burdens worldwide. Annually, over 390 million people are infected with dengue, while chikungunya periodically emerges in highly populated areas. The primary vector for the two diseases is Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that thrives in domestic areas.

 Since there is no vaccine for these arboviruses, vector control remains the best way to control the incidence of these diseases. In the 1960s, the Singapore government started a vector control campaign in order to prevent the transmission of dengue by Aedes aegypti. Measures included mosquito and clinical surveillance, public health education, community participation, fines for allowing mosquito breeding, among others. While this campaign drastically reduced the number of households with Aedes mosquitoes and the incidence of dengue in Singapore until the 1990s, dengue epidemics have since increased in frequency, and chikungunya re-emerged in 2008.

 To better understand this paradoxical situation Principal Research Scientist Ian Mendenhall and Assistant Professor Julien Pompon from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) led research that investigated whether peridomestic areas, or areas near inhabited areas, could be the cause or source of these diseases.

In this week’s Research Story of 2016, we turned to Prof Wang Linfa, Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS, for his pick: the association of Zika infection during pregnancy with microcephaly births. Zika took centre stage in 2016, and will certainly continue to be a main character in research on emerging infectious diseases.

The Zika EmergencyBaby and Mozzie

On 1 February 2016, the world woke up to a new public health emergency: Zika. From then, Zika news hogged the headlines for months, with news agencies charting the spread of infection globally and tracking Zika research.   In the past year, this research has established the association of Zika infection during pregnancy with microcephaly births, while reinforcing the link of Zika infection to increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

“YES!!!” is the answer whenever someone asks about our research.

Bats have commonly been associated with evil (e.g. Dracula) and the dark side of things in western cultures. Their reputation as terrors of the night and vicious blood suckers have haunted many of us since our childhood. Halloween will never be complete without a bat or two hanging around as decorations. But on the other side of the world, sightings or association with bats are considered auspicious omens in Chinese culture. This is mainly due to the Chinese word for “Bats (Fú)” being a homonym to the Chinese word for “Fortune (Fú)”.

Shee-Mei Lok

 

Shee-Mei Lok is a structural biologist and an Associate Professor in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, who specialises in studying the structure of flaviviruses such as dengue in order to find and exploit ways to weaken them. This year Prof Lok was at the forefront of Zika virus research in Singapore as she uncovered important details about the virus' structure, which gave hope and arsenal to the researchers and scientists working to counter it. The National Research Foundation (NRF) recently featured Prof Lok's personal and academic journey in NRF's Scientists Profiles, which you can read here

Julien Pompon, molecular entomologist and Assistant Professor in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at  Duke-NUS Medical School shines a light on his work with mosquitoes and what attracts and repels these pesky (but resilient) insects.

MosquitoHow do you test for behaviour in mosquitoes?

We observe mosquito behaviour primarily while they feed, which corresponds to the transmission phase. Mosquitoes are observed in real time by a researcher who rates their behaviour - such as the mosquito’s landing, insertion of the proboscis, imbibing of blood, number and time of each probe, etc. Real-time behaviour is then used to compute several important parameters that help us to assess the impact of different factors on mosquito biting success.

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