Mosquito genetics may clarify the shortage of a significant Zika outbreak in Africa

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November 24, 2020

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Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can obtain and transmit the Zika virus more easily than a relative living in sub-Saharan Africa, which may explain why America suffered a major Zika outbreak and Africa did not, researchers said.

The difference, explained the researchers in Science, is genetics.

Lambrecht's quote

“By and large, African mosquito populations are less tolerant of the virus than globally invasive populations outside of Africa.” Louis Lambrechts, PhD, Research Director in the Virology Department at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, said Healio. “Geographical variation in mosquito susceptibility to arbovirus has been documented, but this is the first time that such a variation in Zika virus has been clearly associated with specific mosquito subspecies.”

According to Lambrechts and colleagues, A. aegypti is said to have developed from ancestors in West Africa and spread around the world as a “domestic” pest in close proximity to people, causing pandemics of dengue and yellow fever. It remains a major global vector of these two diseases and has also become the major Zika vector that can have serious adverse effects, including.

One of the secrets of Zika, a virus discovered in Uganda more than 70 years ago, is why some places – like America – experienced major outbreaks and others – like Africa – didn’t.

For their study, Lambrechts and colleagues tested 14 mosquito colonies collected in Africa, Asia and America for susceptibility to Zika and individually assessed the infection status of 3,113 female mosquitoes.

The researchers found that the African subspecies A. aegypti formosus is less likely to acquire Zika virus in blood meals. According to Lambrechts and colleagues, the increased susceptibility to Zika in non-African A. aegypti can be caused by genetic differences on mosquito chromosome 2.

“The most surprising result was the fact that the difference in susceptibility to Zika viruses between the two mosquito subspecies was observed regardless of the virus strain,” said Lambrechts. “Future analyzes will look at the underlying mechanisms that make mosquitoes more or less susceptible to Zika virus infections.”

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