Research Digest

Lab notes: In the middle of an ethics debate, scientists create dengue-resistant mosquitos

A round up of the latest in medical research.

About 40% of the world’s population is exposed to the risk of dengue and a large number of those people live in India, which has several virulent outbreaks of the disease especially in its monsoon months. Scientists have been tinkering with mosquito genes to find ways to control mosquito-borne disease like malaria and dengue and may have now created a genetically modified mosquito that can resist infection by the dengue virus and therefore cease to spread it.

Dengue is spread through the Aedes aegyptii mosquitos. Mosquitos that feed on the blood of an infected person pass the disease on when they subsequently bite a healthy person. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have shown that the Aedes aegyptii’s natural ability to fight the dengue virus can be boosted to reject infection in the mosquito in the first place.

In research published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases they describe manipulating a component of the Aedes aegyptii immune system called the JAK-STAT pathway, that regulates production of antiviral factors. The genetic modification resulted in fewer mosquitoes becoming infected. Most of the mosquitos that did get infected had very low levels of dengue virus in their salivary glands. However, the genetic modification did not make the mosquitos resistant to two other diseases that their also are capbale of carrying – Zika and chikungunya.

The team also found that the dengue-resistant mosquitoes live as long as the wild mosquitoes but produce fewer eggs, making it likely that the same mechanism that triggers the immune system plays a role in egg production.

Genetic modification of mosquitos for disease elimination is based on the theorro of “gene drives” that involve replacing the natural population of mosquitos with GM mosquitos that cannot spread the disease. A laboratory at Jalna in Maharashtra has been performing similar genetic experiments for dengue control. However, some scientists and ethicists hold the view that there can be unintended and unforseeable consequences of such large scale manipulations, some that maybe dangerous or even devastating.

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Following a mountaineer as he reaches the summit of Mount Everest

Accounts from Vikas Dimri’s second attempt reveal the immense fortitude and strength needed to summit the Everest.

Vikas Dimri made a huge attempt last year to climb the Mount Everest. Fate had other plans. Thwarted by unfavourable weather at the last minute, he came so close and yet not close enough to say he was at the top. But that did not deter him. Vikas is back on the Everest trail now, and this time he’s sharing his experiences at every leg of the journey.

The Everest journey began from the Lukla airport, known for its dicey landing conditions. It reminded him of the failed expedition, but he still moved on to Namche Bazaar - the staging point for Everest expeditions - with a positive mind. Vikas let the wisdom of the mountains guide him as he battled doubt and memories of the previous expedition. In his words, the Everest taught him that, “To conquer our personal Everest, we need to drop all our unnecessary baggage, be it physical or mental or even emotional”.

Vikas used a ‘descent for ascent’ approach to acclimatise. In this approach, mountaineers gain altitude during the day, but descend to catch some sleep. Acclimatising to such high altitudes is crucial as the lack of adequate oxygen can cause dizziness, nausea, headache and even muscle death. As Vikas prepared to scale the riskiest part of the climb - the unstable and continuously melting Khumbhu ice fall - he pondered over his journey so far.

His brother’s diagnosis of a heart condition in his youth was a wakeup call for the rather sedentary Vikas, and that is when he started focusing on his health more. For the first time in his life, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition and experimented with different diets and supplements for their health benefits. His quest for better health also motivated him to take up hiking, marathon running, squash and, eventually, a summit of the Everest.

Back in the Himalayas, after a string of sleepless nights, Vikas and his team ascended to Camp 2 (6,500m) as planned, and then descended to Base Camp for the basic luxuries - hot shower, hot lunch and essential supplements. Back up at Camp 2, the weather played spoiler again as a jet stream - a fast-flowing, narrow air current - moved right over the mountain. Wisdom from the mountains helped Vikas maintain perspective as they were required to descend 15km to Pheriche Valley. He accepted that “strength lies not merely in chasing the big dream, but also in...accepting that things could go wrong.”

At Camp 4 (8,000m), famously known as the death zone, Vikas caught a clear glimpse of the summit – his dream standing rather tall in front of him.

It was the 18th of May 2018 and Vikas finally reached the top. The top of his Everest…the top of Mount Everest!

Watch the video below to see actual moments from Vikas’ climb.

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Vikas credits his strength to dedication, exercise and a healthy diet. He credits dietary supplements for helping him sustain himself in the inhuman conditions on Mount Everest. On heights like these where the oxygen supply drops to 1/3rd the levels on the ground, the body requires 3 times the regular blood volume to pump the requisite amount of oxygen. He, thus, doesn’t embark on an expedition without double checking his supplements and uses Livogen as an aid to maintain adequate amounts of iron in his blood.

Livogen is proud to have supported Vikas Dimri on his ambitious quest and salutes his spirit. To read more about the benefits of iron, see here. To read Vikas Dimri’s account of his expedition, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Livogen and not by the Scroll editorial team.