July 8, 2015
Zhiyong Xi is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and director of the Sun Yat-sen University–Michigan State University Joint Center of Vector Control for Tropical Diseases. He is working to eradicate dengue fever, a disease that afflicts up to 100 million people each year. His work with mosquitoes and Wolbachia bacteria is putting him closer to his goal.
My long-term goal is to develop control strategies to block dengue virus transmission in mosquitoes. In nature, about 28 percent of mosquito species harbor Wolbachia bacteria, but the mosquitoes that are the primary transmitters of dengue have no Wolbachia in them. We found that Wolbachia is able to stop the dengue virus from replicating. If there is no virus in the mosquito, it can’t spread to people, so disease transmission can be blocked.
I began my scientific career by earning a degree in pharmaceuticals, but changed my focus when I began a graduate degree. When I started my master’s, I changed my focus to this project as it is a very important problem to address.
I continued this focus during my postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins. I have been working on this a long time. In China, there is a long tradition of studying this disease.
I am encouraged about the future and solving this challenging problem. This work could have widespread effects around the world. Solving the problem at the transmission stage is a sustainable solution that would help all affected regions.
For poor countries, even those who can’t afford drugs will be helped. This will help all people. You do not have to be rich and get a vaccine or a drug. Everyone will benefit.
It would be a dream if my research was responsible for wiping out dengue fever. It is a dream for me and for all scientists. It is not about talking with each other in the lab or an office. It is all about helping people all over the world.
Photos by Kurt Stepnitz