Health & Wellbeing

US approves trial of Zika-fighting engineered mosquitoes

US approves trial of Zika-fighting engineered mosquitoes
Genetics researchers have targeted the Aedes aegypti mosquito in a number of ways
Genetics researchers have targeted the Aedes aegypti mosquito in a number of ways
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Genetics researchers have targeted the Aedes aegypti mosquito in a number of ways
Genetics researchers have targeted the Aedes aegypti mosquito in a number of ways

With the number of Zika infections on the rise and real concerns of the virus spreading, governments are on the lookout for inventive ways to ramp up the response. These have included trials of experimental vaccines, trapping the bugs in junked tires and perhaps the most radical of all, using genetic engineering to kill off local mosquito populations. This strategy is beginning to gather some steam in the US, with federal regulators approving a field trial that would let engineered mosquitoes go to work in the state of Florida.

Humans have toyed with the idea of using genetic engineering to put the brakes on mosquito populations for years. These little critters are after all the single biggest threat to human life, spreading malaria, dengue and yellow fever to cause several million deaths each year and infect many millions more.

One of the main culprits behind this unmatched death toll is the Aedes aegypti, a mosquito found in tropical and subtropical regions that is the number one disease vector for dengue fever. Genetics researchers have targeted this innocuous killer through a number of approaches, looking to alter genes in ways that cause offspring to be born without wings, kill off their sense of smell and consign females to their birthplace for the entirety of their consequently shortened lives.

British company Oxitech has been a very active player in this field. In 2009 it released a bunch of its genetically modified mosquitoes on the Grand Cayman island in the Carribbean, killing off 80 percent of the local A. aegypti population. It has also conducted trials in Brazil and Panama, and has now been given the nod by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to let its bug killers loose in Key Haven, Monroe Country, Florida.

Oxitech has engineered male mosquitoes, which don't bite humans or spread diseases, to possess a certain self-limiting gene. When these mosquitoes are released, they mate with wild female Aedes aegypti and this gene is passed along to the offspring. The gene is fatal for the babies and prevents them ever reaching adulthood.

Back in March, the FDA released a draft environmental assessment pertaining to the potential consequences of trialling Oxitech's mosquitoes in Key Haven. It has since received thousands of public comments and now published a final assessment, which concludes that the proposed field trial will have no "significant impacts on the environment."

While winning federal approval is an important step, it doesn't clear they way for Oxitech's mosquitoes to be used willy-nilly. They will still need to be approved by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which is waiting on a referendum where locals will vote on whether releasing the genetically modified mosquitoes is really a good idea. This is set to take place in November, so we'll know more about a time-frame for the field trial if and when this final hurdle can be overcome.

Source: Oxitech, FDA

Bob Flint
This has all the making's of a Sci-Fi movie of the week....Not to mention that they both genders could start feeding, and instead of flying on their own, crawl, or hitch a ride on any warm blooded body. Nature has it's own agenda...
The only way to control mosquito populations is to remove standing water and the only way to do that effectively is to have government workers inspecting peoples' property. The USA has avoided do this despite its proven effectiveness and instead will use aerial spraying of poisons on entire human populations.
For individuals the best single solution is to use permethrin to treat their garments. Cost is about 5 cents per garment and treatment last through 6 or more washings and up to 1 year.
I personally think that children at an early age should be encouraged to kill mosquitoes and flies. After a recent trip to Mainland China I couldn't help but notice there were zero flies in most cities and only saw one mosquito that being in a public restaurant in Beijing. But it wasn't long before the patrons rose from their meals to kill this lone Mosquito. I think if the world followed suite we could rid the planet of these deadly insects, that really have no use to society whatsoever.
Oxitech's GMO solution is extraordinarily effective, with the added benefit of affecting only the targeted Aedes aegypti species, which is not even local to the US. But ignorance and fear among the locals pretty much ensure that it won't gain approval for use, despite FDA approval. They would rather endure aerial spraying of carcinogenic pesticides, which kill many unintended species, including marine life (fish and turtles) and have some horrific effects on the human population as well. Such is life.