Looking Right Through Mosquitoes
Spectroscopic analysis can rapidly and cheaply detect the presence of Zika in insects
Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is nothing new in the world of noninvasive diagnosis, but a multi-institutional team spanning Australia, Brazil, and the USA have found a new avenue of detection for the technique. Study lead and research fellow in the Centre for Animal Science at The University of Queensland, Maggy Sikulu-Lord, says, “I started using NIRS in 2009 and I found it fascinating that I could shine a light on a mosquito and discover the insect’s age. That was fun, so I decided to explore the technique more deeply.” That exploration led to the development of a NIRS-based tool to identify Zika virus in mosquitoes, to help keep track of the endemic disease (1).
The procedure involves simply shining a light onto the head and thorax of an intact Aedes aegypti mosquito, yielding Zika detection with 94.2–99.3 percent accuracy. Not only that, but the technique is 18 times quicker and 110 times less expensive than RT-qPCR, the current standard. The investigators believe this boost over RT-qPCR could make their technique a viable option to help monitor the spread and growth of Zika across the world. Sikulu-Lord says, “We hope that public health officials will embrace this tool for surveillance of mosquito species and age. Our plan is to set up processing centers and provide surveillance services for a fee.”
The range of the technique spans beyond Zika, with possible applications for diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya. Additionally, the researchers have successfully used NIRS on houseflies, beetles, and fruit flies in the past, so there’s the potential for use in a larger range of diseases.
“We are currently conducting field trials to validate our laboratory results. We are also testing it on other mosquito-borne diseases and we hope to develop a miniaturized version for real-time surveillance,” says Sikulu-Lord. “We welcome mosquito surveillance programs around the world to partner with us in the development of this technique for global surveillance of mosquito-borne diseases.”
- JN Fernandes et al., “Rapid, noninvasive detection of Zika virus in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by near-infrared spectroscopy”, Sci Adv, 4, eaat0496 (2018). PMID: 29806030.
My fascination with science, gaming, and writing led to my studying biology at university, while simultaneously working as an online games journalist. After university, I travelled across Europe, working on a novel and developing a game, before finding my way to Texere. As Associate Editor, I’m evolving my loves of science and writing, while continuing to pursue my passion for gaming and creative writing in a personal capacity.