Eradicating Zika with Novel Insecticides Against Vector Mosquitoes

Grant Winners

  • Aurelien Tartar, Ph.D. – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences
  • Robert Smith, Ph.D. – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences
  • Paula Leoro-Garzon – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences


  • Richard Dodge, Ph.D. – Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences


Award Winners

The Zika fever has emerged as one of the most pressing public health issues both locally in the state of Florida, and throughout the Tropics. Local transmission instances in South Florida have motivated travel warnings from the CDC, recommending that pregnant women "consider postponing travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County". In addition to the obvious impacts on public health and Florida's economy (tourism industry), the Zika outbreak has once again highlighted Florida's vulnerability to mosquito-borne diseases, and the crucial importance of mosquito control processes. The main mode of transmission of the Zika virus is through the mosquito vector Aedes aegypti. This vector represents a major challenge for the mosquito control industry, because of the difficulties associated with applying chemical control treatments (insecticides) in direct contact to the cryptic habitats used for larval development. Because effective control of mosquito populations remains the best interventions to limit local Zika infections, there is a growing need for novel insecticides that can effectively kill mosquitoes, but remain both environmentally sustainable and safe for non-target organisms. Our idea is to generate a safe, effective and ecofriendly mosquito larvicide by engineering bacterial cells that will express novel insecticidal proteins. The engineered bacteria will represent a novel antivector tool that will specifically target the immature stage of mosquito in their aquatic habitats and can be used in complement of current interventions to suppress or reduce vector populations. The engineered bacteria will produce insecticidal proteins, named GH5_27 and GH20 (GH=Glycoside Hydrolases), which have recently been discovered during a Lagenidium giganteum genome sequencing effort performed in our laboratory. We propose to use a synthetic biology approach engineer bacteria that express the targeted GH proteins in a very controlled manner. We will then test the insecticidal properties of these bacteria against A. aegypti following the strict guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the development of novel bacteria-based pesticides. The long-term development of novel, effective, and environmentally sustainable mosquito control strategies will contribute to eradicate mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, both at a local and a global scale, and has enormous potential for research publications, extramural funding awards, and patent applications.