Science - March 1, 2017

WUR will share lab for mosquito research

Albert Sikkema

WUR will open its BSL-3 lab, in which research into the Zika virus and other diseases spread by insects is carried out, to other European researchers. The share of the research facility will be financed by the European Union through the InfraVec2 project.

<Photo: Athos Silva de Oliveira>

Each of the 24 partners in the European Union project have research facilities to study the spread of animal diseases and human infections via insects. They are now also making the facilities available to researchers from other institutes, including Eastern Europe. ‘Researchers who are not part of this consortium now have the possibility to use these facilities’, says Wageningen entomologist Sander Koenraadt, partner within the EU project. ‘If their application is approved, they can get their expenses paid for a trip to Wageningen, for example, to perform a test with mosquitoes and viri, during which we provide support.’ The EU has made 10 million euros available for this project. The project is coordinated by the Institut Pasteur in Paris, which also holds an advanced lab for mosquito research.

Heavy safety regulations are applied at the Wageningen BSL-3 lab for the research on mosquitoes and disease-causing viri. One example of current research is the infecting of mosquitoes with the Zika virus to determine the spread and expression of the disease, as well as the behaviour of the insects. Such a laboratory is important in order to understand the spread of diseases by insects, says Koenraadt, but it is not cheap. Together with the Laboratory of Virology Group, he must ascertain a sufficient number of research projects to fund the laboratory. A market study among his European colleagues revealed that there is demand for access to this research lab. ‘I already had that impression, because I was regularly approached by colleagues during conferences to do joint research projects at this lab. This is now possible with EU funding.’

Diseases that can be transmitted by insects, such as Zika, dengue and yellow fever, can be a threat to public health, just like parasites spread by insects, such as malaria. An increasing number of such diseases is advancing into Europe due to climate change. These diseases also include animal diseases, such as bluetongue disease and the Schmallenberg virus. The EU aims to make better use of the available research facilities.

Another part of the InfraVec2 project is Citizen Science, in order for researchers to improve communication and collaboration with citizens in their research. Koenraadt will also test the Muggenradar (‘Mosquito Radar’), which was successful in the Netherlands, in other European countries.