Controlling mosquito-borne illnesses, such as Dengue or West Nile virus, has historically been difficult due to a lack of effective vaccines and concerns about the environmental impact of insecticides. Thus, scientists have turned to manipulating Wolbachia, a parasitic bacterium within mosquitoes, as a way to control the reproductive fitness of mosquito populations that transmit human disease. In a new study, an international team including scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and the University of Chicago identified a new mobile DNA element in Wolbachia that may contribute to improved control strategies for mosquito vectors of disease. The researchers reconstructed near-complete genomes of Wolbachia isolated from individual ovaries of four Culex pipiens mosquitoes. In the process, they identified a novel plasmid -- a circular piece of DNA that can replicate independently of the chromosomes. Because a plasmid is a mobile DNA element, it can transfer from one cell to another and can have great implications for the fitness and evolution of a microbial species. Mobile genetic elements that can spread through different Wolbachia cells, and thus across a Wolbachia population, hold promise for controlling mosquito populations that may carry disease.
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