Detecting infectious disease has always been vital to scientists. Recent discoveries propose that blood-sucking flies can act as a medium for scientists or people of a similar field to detect certain diseases that are present in animals but have not yet spread to humans. How does this help specifically? Global outbreaks like Ebola and Zika viruses could possible be controlled so that they do not cause extreme amounts of damage. Additionally, around 7 new pathogens are identified each year, and this number will increase to 15-20 by year 2020 because of increased human activities with wild-life. The flies could be used as sampling tools in the wild to discover the emergence of these new pathogens.
Current methods for studying pathogens include analyzing caught prey or trapping animals and studying their tissue. Both these methods only cover a fraction of the community in the area and are could also be damaging to endangered species. Since a host’s DNA is still in the flies after a meal, scientists wondered if studying these blood meals could be a better way of studying pathogens.
During a 16-week period, 4000 flies were captured, 1200 of the flies were filled with blood. The type of flies caught were tsetse flies. Tsetse flies are large flies that feed on blood, regardless of gender. They are easy to capture and feed on a large range of hosts. Using unidentified techniques, the scientists were able to determine 75% of the hosts from blood meals and also 18 undocumented malaria parasites. Determined hosts ranged from elephants, to hippos, to birds, and etc.
Franck Prugnolle, the leader of the team that performed this study, stated that the results show blood meals of tsetse flies can be used to analyze the diversity of malaria parasites. Whether or not other pathogens can also be analyzed successfully would have to be tested more upon.
I think that this approach is very innovative, and I am surprised it hadn’t already been done before. If successful, analyzing pathogens through blood meals of tsetse flies could be a very viable way in the future. I do think there are drawbacks, however, like not every single animal is a host to the tsetse fly; thus other flies or studying methods will have to be used. Additionally, what if the pathogen discovered was so new that no one could identify it? I really like the idea, but I do agree a lot more research has to be done before it can become a common way of detecting diseases.