- The Straits Times
Singapore has had over five times more dengue cases this year compared to 2018, but the National Environment Agency (NEA) is seeking to change that.
How, you ask? Well, by breeding more mosquitoes of course.
On Monday (Dec 2), the authority opened a facility in Ang Mo Kio that can breed up to five million male Wolbachia-Aedes aegypti mosquitos every week as part of Project Wolbachia, the nation’s initiative to fight against dengue.
The project involves the release of male Wolbachia-Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to suppress the urban Aedes aegypti mosquito population, which is the primary vector of dengue, chikungunya and Zika in Singapore.
If a released male Wolbachia-Aedes aegypti mosquito and a urban female Aedes aegypti mosquito that does not carry Wolbachia mates, the resulting eggs will not hatch.
According to NEA, the continued release of male Wolbachia-Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will bring about a gradual reduction in the urban Aedes aegypti mosquito population, and hence lower the risk of dengue transmission.
More high-tech than before
The opening of the new Techplace II facility is in response to climate change and warming temperatures, which are expected to worsen the dengue situation over the next few decades, NEA said.
The production of five million weekly mosquitoes is a 10-fold increase from the previous facility at Neythal Road, making it a “critical” boost in capacity to scale up Project Wolbachia, the authority added.
In addition, the highly-automated facility leverages on new technologies to boost productivity, including a male-female pupae sorter co-developed by NEA and Singapore start-up Orinno Technology.
The sorter is 10 to 20 times faster than the previous method used, and uses a specially designed sieve in the automated separation of male pupae, female pupae and larvae.
After the sorting process, a pupae counting and dispensing module will count and dispense a fixed number of Wolbachia-Aedes aegypti pupae into release containers.
Exposing female mosquitoes to radiation so they can’t reproduce
The NEA has also been working closely with the Joint Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to integrate low-dose X-ray irradiation in the production process.
This irradiation will cause any female Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes that are accidentally released to become infertile, preventing build up of such mosquitoes, which would hamper Project Wolbachia’s effectiveness.
Dr. Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, who officially opened the facility, said that the impact of Project Wolbachia goes beyond the realm of public health in Singapore.
“The innovative solutions developed and collaborations formed through this important scientific initiative, have also advanced research and provided economic opportunities in Singapore,” she said.