A study into how bacteria interact with their insect hosts may lead to better prevention for diseases such as malaria and dengue.

Researchers from The University of Queensland have investigated Wolbachia, a group ofbacteria that live inside insect hosts such as mosquitos and inhibit transmission of viruses.
Senior author on the study, Associate Professor Sassan Asgari from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, said the bacteria produce small sequences of ribonucleic acid (RNA) which act to regulate both bacterial and host genes – controlling their host.
RNA is used by all living organisms to transmit genetic information from DNA to other parts of the cell and to carry out a range of important cellular processes.
 “Research shows that certain strains of Wolbachia deter transmission of mosquito-borne pathogens such as dengue viruses and the malaria parasite, but how Wolbachia manipulates its host is largely unknown,” he said.
“We have discovered that this bacterium produces small RNA sequences which act across the bacteria and animal kingdoms to influence gene expression.
“A better understanding of how Wolbachia manipulates interactions with its hosts could lead to better control of diseases that have global impact on human and animal health.”The researchers found two small noncoding RNAs that were abundant in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia.
“We showed that these small noncoding RNAs were produced by two different Wolbachia strains in both mosquito and fly hosts, indicating that their function is important for Wolbachia to live inside host organisms,” Dr Asgari said.  
“It appears that these small noncoding RNAs regulate gene expression in Wolbachia and the host organism, which may be how this bacterium inhibits the transmission of disease by host insects.
“By understanding this process and learning how to manipulate it, we can further contribute to the prevention of disease such as dengue fever and malaria.”
The research was conducted in collaboration with Monash University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday 16 December 2014.

Media: Associate Professor Sassan Asgari, s.asgari@uq.edu.au

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