Singapore Facility to Produce Millions of Mosquitoes to Fight Dengue Outbreak

Dec 27, 2019 | GOV, GREEN, NEWS, Singapore

Wolbachia-Carrying Females ©Nea.Gov

Singapore is facing an enemy that is immensely hard to beat – dengue. With five times more dengue cases compared last year, the Singapore National Environment Agency has resulted in drastic measures to get rid of the problem.

When thinking about solutions to get rid of Singapore’s dengue problem, the farthest thing in people’s minds may be to breed more mosquitoes. However, the National Environment Agency or NEA recently opened a facility in Ang Mo Kio which is dedicated to breeding millions of mosquitoes per week to stop female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from laying more eggs.

The new facility opened its doors on Monday. This came right after the country experienced its third-biggest outbreak yet. Up until November, a whopping number of more than 14,400 people were infected with the disease, with 20 people dead. 

About Project Wolbachia

The facility is part of Project Wolbachia, which aims to release male Wolbachia-Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to decrease the Aedes aegypti mosquito population – the cause of diseases such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. 

When the urban mosquitoes breed with the released ones that do not carry Wolbachia, the resulting eggs will not hatch. 

The facility valued at $5 million will enable the government to scale up its production of mosquitoes and increase their target number quickly. This is not the first time the same facility has been built in Singapore. Its previous facility located in Neythal Road produced 10 times fewer mosquitoes as the new one and is now defunct. 

“This facility and the technologies it houses will play a key role in Singapore’s efforts to deploy Wolbachia technology as part of our integrated vector control program to tackle these diseases (dengue, chikungunya, and Zika),” stated NEA chief executive Tan Meng Dui. 

New Technology

According to NEA, the release of these mosquitoes will dramatically help in the gradual reduction of the Aedes aegypti mosquito population, and this will result in lower cases of dengue. The new facility is three times larger than the last facility and is equipped with new technologies that will enable increased production capacity and productivity. It also comes with a male-female pupae sorter, a machine which was developed by the NEA, with the help of local start-up Orinno Technology. 

The said sorter will increase the efficiency of the facility 10 to 20 times quicker than the last method used to separate the types of larvae and pupae. It uses water-flow control, lighting, and a dedicated sieve to give accuracy in the separation process. The facility even comes with pupae and larvae counters. 

The NEA has also been working hand in hand with the Joint Food and Agricultural Organisation or FAO of the United Nations, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA, to add low-dose X-ray radiation in the process. 

The step is expected to cause Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes which are inadvertently released to become infertile. This way, the facility is sure that there will be no build-up of the mosquitoes which can affect the positive changes brought about by the project. 

Singapore’s Fight Against Dengue

“If we are serious about confronting climate change and other challenges, dengue control cannot simply be just ‘business as usual’. We cannot just do more of the same,” explained Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.

Dr. Khor, who is also the Senior Minister for the State for Health also added that the dengue cases are expected to worsen in the next few years due to global warming. This happens because mosquitoes breed faster in higher temperatures, which will cause the dengue virus to replicate at a faster rate.

According to Dr. Khor, Project Wolbachia transcends the realm of public health, stating that “the innovative solutions developed and collaborations formed through this important scientific initiative have also advanced research and provided economic opportunities in Singapore.”