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MRCU says Wolbachia bacteria ‘on our radar’ for Aedes aegypti control


With the release of Oxitec’s GMO mosquito in Cayman now in the rear-view mirror, another non-traditional approach to controlling the Aedes Aegypti mosquito is gaining traction elsewhere.

It uses a naturally-occurring bacteria called Wolbachia to reduce the mosquito’s ability to transmit diseases like dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.

The mosquito ranks as one of the world’s deadliest animals, causing millions of deaths each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

To combat mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya, some jurisdictions are turning to a naturally-occurring bacteria called Wolbachia.

The World Mosquito Program, a non-profit organisation that pioneered the Wolbachia technique and is conducting field tests in 12 different countries including Australia, Vietnam and Brazil, said it’s studies have shown that Wolbachia interferes with a range of pathogens affecting the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, including dengue.

“It’s on our radar, we really haven’t discussed it to the extent where we have made a decision,” said MRCU Director Dr. Jim McNelly.

Dr. Jim McNelly told Cayman 27 the MRCU has been in contact with Dr. Zhiyong Xi, a University of Michigan professor quoted in this recent New York Times opinion piece touting the Wolbachia technique.

“We’ve actually been collecting eggs, Aedes Aegypti eggs to send to that group, if in fact, we make the decision to have Wolbachia introduced into our mosquitoes,” said Dr. McNelly.

Dr. McNelly said even if the decision is made to introduce Wolbachia to Cayman’s Aedes Aegypti population, it would face a permitting process with the National Conservation Council.

He said could take several months.

“There’s some huge upsides to Wolbachia, so it is something that is been brought in from nature so it is a biological tool, it would preclude some of the insecticide use that we currently use, and the results are pretty interesting,” said Dr. McNelly.

One trial in Townsville, Australia showed that as imported cases of dengue kept rising during Wolbachia releases, local transmission virtually ceased.

As the MRCU moves on from its releases of Oxitec’s so-called ‘friendly’ GMO mosquitoes, the biologically-based Wolbachia poses an interesting option to consider.

The MRCU has considered Wolbachia before.

The group behind the unsuccessful 11th hour legal challenge to the 2016 GMO mosquito roll out questioned why the Wolbachia alternative was overlooked by the MRCU.

Then-director Dr. Bill Petrie said at the time Wolbachia was in fact considered, but he believed it had critical disadvantages to the GMO method.

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to

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