Modelling the Wolbachia incompatible insect technique: strategies for effective mosquito population elimination

D. E. Pagendam, B. J. Trewin, N. Snoad, S. A. Ritchie, A. A. Hoffmann, K. M. Staunton, C. Paton and N. Beebe,  BMC Biology,  18:13. 2020.

BackgroundThe Wolbachia incompatible insect technique (IIT) shows promise as a method for eliminating populations of invasive mosquitoes such as Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus) (Diptera: Culicidae) and reducing the incidence of vector-borne diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika. Successful implementation of this biological control strategy relies on high-fidelity separation of male from female insects in mass production systems for inundative release into landscapes. Processes for sex-separating mosquitoes are typically error-prone and laborious, and IIT programmes run the risk of releasing Wolbachia-infected females and replacing wild mosquito populations.ResultsWe introduce a simple Markov population process model for studying mosquito populations subjected to a Wolbachia-IIT programme which exhibit an unstable equilibrium threshold. The model is used to study, in silico, scenarios that are likely to yield a successful elimination result. Our results suggest that elimination is best achieved by releasing males at rates that adapt to the ever-decreasing wild population, thus reducing the risk of releasing Wolbachia-infected females while reducing costs.ConclusionsWhile very high-fidelity sex separation is required to avoid establishment, release programmes tend to be robust to the release of a small number of Wolbachia-infected females. These findings will inform and enhance the next generation of Wolbachia-IIT population control strategies that are already showing great promise in field trials.

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