Tags: Zika Virus | zika | aedes aegypti | oxitec | naled

Should GM Mosquitoes Be Used to Fight Zika?

Should GM Mosquitoes Be Used to Fight Zika?

The Aedes egypti mosquito carries the Zika virus. (Dollar Photo Club)

By    |   Friday, 16 September 2016 04:23 PM

With the number of Zika cases doubling seemingly overnight — and with it the panic factor — the push to find a nontoxic quick fix is fever-pitched: enter the genetically modified mosquito.

The British-based company Oxitec has rushed to find a solution to the disease, which has been blamed on birth defects and could affect millions of people around the world.

Its modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the mosquito responsible for transmitting the virus, are lab-equipped with two unique genes — one of which short-circuits cell function and quickly kills the mosquito, according to the company's website.

The other gene has a practical lab detection use: It causes the mosquitoes' larvae to glow for scientists to study migration patterns.

The male mosquito lives long enough to mate and pass on the modified genes. The offspring die before reaching adulthood — thus the population begins to die off.

Since the aegypti mosquitoes don't mate with other species of mosquitoes, there's no chance of cross-species contamination and sending the killing gene beyond the aegypti bugs, the company assures.

But tinkering with nature, no matter how well-intentioned, can lead to disastrous or unknown consequences, say skeptics. For instance, Oxitec keeps its brood alive in the lab through the use of the antibiotic tetracycline. Can these mosquitoes acquire tetracycline in the wild? What happens if the delicate balance in nature is disrupted, and another species proliferates in the absence of the aegypti?

Such fears fail in the face of inaction, supporters of GM mosquitoes say. They point to the World Health Organization's findings that Zika causes microcephaly in babies (passed on by mosquito-bitten mothers) and Guillain-Barre syndrome and that time is short.

They also point to the shortcomings of standard mosquito control. The go-to insecticide currently used, naled, an organophosphate approved by the EPA since 1959, has been implicated in the deaths of 25 children in India, where restrictions are lax. The deaths, due to overexposure, occurred in 2013. Organophosphates break down the communication between nerves and muscles, which can lead to suffocation.

Here in the United States, there have been numerous protests over the use of Naled, opening wide the prospect of Oxitec's modified mosquitoes as a viable solution.

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With the number of Zika cases doubling seemingly overnight — and with it the panic factor — the push to find a nontoxic quick fix is fever-pitched: enter the genetically modified mosquito.
zika, aedes aegypti, oxitec, naled
361
2016-23-16
Friday, 16 September 2016 04:23 PM
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