Indiana University biologist Irene Newton has been awarded $1.8 million from the National Institutes of Health. The funding will support her research to analyze the biological mechanisms that allow a specific type of bacteria to infect and then inhibit insects from transmitting diseases.
Some of these diseases include West Nile virus, dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika.
Under the grant, Newton’s research will identify the biological factors involved in pathogen blocking. The results of her efforts could be instrumental in preventing diseases to spread on a large scale through insects.
"Amazingly, Wolbachia-infected mosquitos have been quite effective at reducing transmission of RNA viruses, including human pathogens," said Newton, an associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology in a news release. "The phenomenon was first discovered in fruit flies and later moved into mosquitos by scientists through a difficult process in order to stop virus transmission to humans. What we still don’t know is how Wolbachia actually does any of these things, and that’s what my lab is poised to find out."