Wolbachia still works when it is warm

McKay, A.,  Nature Ecology and Evolution,  8. 2024.

Wolbachia is a maternally inherited endosymbiotic bacterium that can impede the transmission of viruses such as dengue and Zika by some mosquito vectors to humans. Over the past decade, this self-sustaining disease-control method has been rolled out in cities of increasing size; 2023 saw the largest demonstration of efficacy to date, in Medellín, Colombia. However, two key biological mechanisms that enable Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes to spread in a population — cytoplasmic incompatibility and maternal transmission — have been shown in laboratory conditions to decline under high temperatures. Writing in Nature Climate Change in August 2023, Vásquez and colleagues conducted computational simulations to explore whether near-future warming scenarios are likely to affect the efficacy of Wolbachia-based biocontrol. The models combine empirical estimates of thermal sensitivity for one strain of Wolbachia with projections of future average temperatures and heatwaves for Cairns, Australia and Nha Trang City, Vietnam, two locations where the intervention has been deployed. Estimates of the bacterium’s successful persistence in the mosquito population remain high under tested projections of moderate and severe average warming to 2050. However, the simulations also show reduced efficacy under more variable thermal extremes; these interventions have the potential to fail under extreme warming with long heatwave durations. We selected this paper for our Year in Review collection because it exemplifies how insect thermal biology and global change analysis can offer insights relevant to human health. Testing whether climate change influences Wolbachia-based biocontrol helps to illuminate whether the promising technology is likely to remain feasible in coming years.

More related to this:

wMel replacement of dengue-competent mosquitoes is robust to near-term change