Latest Stories

Fear not the big issues, says lead scientist


THE NEXT generation of Filipino scientists listen to the Australian dengue expert

Scott O’Neill, lead scientist of the Eliminate Dengue program, says the key to the reduction of dengue transmission may not be a vaccine for humans but a common bacterium, Wolbachia pipientis, that thrives in insect cells.

The dean of the Faculty of Science at Melbourne’s Monash University talked at the Philippine Science High School about the innovative method being developed to control dengue.

The talk was part of the Australian Embassy’s Scientists in School initiative, which aims to encourage students to take an interest in scientific research.

As he discussed the work they were doing, the scientist advised his audience: “Do not be afraid to work with big issues. If you want to do something that makes an impact, be prepared to persevere even in the face of failure.”

He said his team had thousands of failed trials but, after years of experimenting, they were able to infect enough mosquitoes with wolbachia. Results were even better than expected, he said.

O’Neill said previous studies showed  that the bacterium was capable of halving the life-span of its carrier and infected nearly 70 percent of the insect population, though it was not usually found in most mosquito species.

Aside from shortening the life-span of a mosquito, the scientists found that the wolbachia also limited the dengue virus’ ability to replicate.

O’Neill, PSHS executive director Dr. Josette Biyo and main campus director Dr. Virginia Andres

This information, he said, helped scientists of the Eliminate Dengue program to develop a different approach to the problem. They wanted to take the bacteria from infected fruit flies for micro-injecting  into the eggs of a common dengue carrier, the yellow fever mosquito.

O’Neill explained it took eight to 10 days for a mosquito to transmit dengue after biting someone with the disease. The bacterium was expected to shorten significantly the insect’s normal life-span of 30 days, greatly reducing the chances of its passing on the dengue virus.

When tested in several outdoor cages in Australia, they found that generations of wolbachia-infected mosquito larvae could be produced so long as the female parent was infected.

From a small number initially, bacteria-infected mosquitoes multiplied to represent 95 percent of the population over a span of two years.

It was also noted that the mosquito population size was reduced by nearly 30 percent.

O’Neill said the program’s scientists were hopeful that the approach could also be used to control the transmission of chicken fever and malaria.

Further experiments will be carried out in Brazil, China, Vietnam and Indonesia in the following year.

O’Neill told his audience: “When I was your age, I knew I had an interest in science but I didn’t know what to do.”

He said that as he showed an interest in insects and human disease while studying for an agriculture degree, his mentor told him “to always be ambitious and not to be afraid to ask the big questions, which is why I do what I do today.”

O’Neill said: “When you’re working on the edge of knowledge, you can hope to predict what will happen but you don’t really know.”

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: dengue , disease control , Education , News , science

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Opinions split on Napoles turning state witness
  3. Delfin Lee: Blame Pag-Ibig, not me
  4. Plunder complaint filed vs PNP chief, firearms office head over license delivery deal
  5. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  6. San Juan cops fail to arrest Cedric Lee
  7. More ‘Yolanda’ bodies found
  8. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  9. Lawyer: Napoles ‘will tell all’
  10. Boy ‘sexually assaulted’ at Indonesia international school
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  3. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  4. Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  5. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  6. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  7. Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  8. Reckless driver endangered lives of Aquino, entourage–report
  9. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  10. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  9. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
  10. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima


  • PNP chief on plunder raps: ‘Amateurish’
  • Makati readies 12-month traffic plan for Skyway 3
  • Heard on Radyo Inquirer 990AM
  • Did you know
  • HK apology: Why Estrada and not Aquino?
  • Sports

  • Mixers trim Aces, force do-or-die tiff
  • Donaire junks Garcia as coach, taps father
  • ’Bye Ginebra: No heavy heart this time
  • UAAP board tackles new rules
  • Baguio climb to decide Le Tour de Filipinas
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Entertainment

  • Return of ‘Ibong Adarna’
  • Practical Phytos plans his future
  • In love … with acting
  • From prison to the peak of success
  • ‘Asedillo’ location thrives
  • Business

  • PH banks not ready for Asean integration
  • Stocks down on profit-taking
  • Banks allowed to use ‘cloud’
  • SMIC to issue P15-B bonds
  • Honda upgrades PH plant
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • 19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
  • Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH
  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
  • Marketplace