Arbovirus Transmission and Evolution Research

Francesca Frentiu is a virologist studying the transmission of arboviruses or mosquito borne viruses

Dr Francesca Frentiu leads the Arbovirus Transmission and Evolution group at QUT. The group’s research focuses on arboviruses, or mosquito-borne viruses. Their work includes:

  1. Dissecting how viruses interact with their mosquito vectors, with the aim of stopping transmission to humans
  2. Predicting how climate change will influence the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses
  3. Building research capacity by training public health professionals in arbovirus surveillance and risk modeling

Dissecting the interaction between arboviruses and mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are highly effective vectors for the transmission of viruses such as Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya. These viruses cause a high burden of disease, particularly in northern parts of Australia and South East Asia where vector mosquitoes are found. The team is currently examining how the virus/ mosquito interaction determines transmission to humans. We can exploit this understanding to develop new approaches and tools to control transmission.

We have contributed to the development and field deployment of a novel biocontrol based on the bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia reduces the transmission of dengue by stopping virus replication in Aedes aegypti vector mosquitoes. Our current work with Wolbachia aims to understand how genetic diversity in mosquito-borne viruses influences the extent of this reduction in transmission. We are also working on additional Wolbachia stains for biocontrol and characterizing the extent to which they stop the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses other than dengue.

Predicting how climate change will influence arbovirus transmission

We have ongoing collaborations with different groups to improve modeling and prediction of virus transmission risk in time and space. The goal of this work is to create evidence that improves public health policy in a changing climate. This is important as climate change is affecting the biology of mosquitos – increasing temperatures extend their geographic range and allow them to be more active over longer ‘biting seasons’. High quality risk prediction gives public health professionals the evidence needed to conduct effective mosquito control measures.

Building capacity for management of arboviruses across the Asia-Pacific region

Dr Frentiu is strongly committed to enhancing the skills of public health professionals from across the Asia Pacific region to influence effective public health policy. The team is developing short courses teaching surveillance, transmission and risk prediction and currently provides technical laboratory training.

Evolution of arboviruses

Dr Frentiu and her team are studying how viruses such as Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya evolve over time. With this information the team can create robust prediction models that help identify when and where virus transmission is more likely. Studying virus evolution will help us understand how these pathogens adapt to mosquito vectors. The urgency of this research is increasing as viruses that were once active in small geographic pockets become more widespread.