Genetically Modified Mosquitoes and Zika
Recent news of Florida possibly releasing genetically modified mosquitoes (GMMs) into the environment to tackle Zika has many anti-GMO groups freaking out!
Genetically modified mosquitoes may be coming to a town near you to help fight Zika. 🙂 Okay, before you flip out, let’s take a solid look at the science first.
Throughout history, mosquitoes have been a huge problem for humanity. They are quite a nuisance to most of us; but, they can also spread many deadly diseases. But not all mosquitoes are bothersome or deadly. Most male mosquitoes for instance feed solely on flower nectar and generally do not transmit disease to humans. The females of most mosquito species however, do transmit disease by feeding on us. They do this to nourish their developing eggs. The females of the Aedes Aegypti variety can carry a number of viruses including Zika and transmit that virus to humans.
Thanks to the company Oxitec, the males have been genetically modified with a change in their sex chromosomes; as a consequence, when the males mate with the females, the resulting offspring cannot survive.
This is in no way adding chemicals to the environment. In fact, the Oxitec scientists have simply switched off genes that signal parts of the cells to conduct certain functions. With the gene turned on, the development of the mosquito progresses normally and the male mosquito stays viable. Think of it this way, some humans are born with horrific genetic diseases. Because of the nature of the disorder, some human fetuses and babies do not live past a certain age. A similar concept has been accomplished purposefully with male Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. After the egg is fertilized, instructions to complete particular life cycles are either ignored or misread. Lacking proper and adequate intracellular communication during development is inevitably bad for the organism and it cannot grow properly.
There are some concerns about this technology and I will address these concerns below:
1.) But what will the bats, birds and other predators eat?
There are over 80 species of mosquito in Florida alone. Starvation is virtually impossible.
2.) But won’t this disturb ecosystems dependent on these mosquitoes at least in some way?
Aedes Aegypti originated in Africa; but admittedly, they have been here for quite some time now and do contribute to food chains. That said however, new populations of Aedes Aegypti are invasive. And these new invaders are now introducing diseases that are foreign to our ecosystems.
3.) This technology is too soon. Why release dangerous chemicals into the environment.
There are no chemicals being released into the environment.
4.) The foreign proteins in these mosquitoes may cause allergies and other unforeseen problems.
There have been no foreign proteins introduced into these mosquitoes The only foreign proteins are the various viruses themselves which these mosquitoes carry and of which are a real threat to organisms without natural defenses to these viruses.
5.) They are wiping out an entire species!
No, we are only reducing the number of invasive species of Aedes Aegypti that are NOT supposed to be here anyway. The population can easily recover but preferably without the dangerous viruses they carry.
6.) These scientists can’t possibly know how successful this will be.
Actually this technology was already tested in the Cayman Islands, Brazil, and Panama with statistically significant results. The studies revealed a 90% reduction in the Aedes Aegypti population. This is why this is being strongly considered as a viable option.
7.) But couldn’t something still go wrong?
Only in the most of magical scenarios. If aliens were to magically replicate over 200 billion of these GM mosquitoes and sprinkle them over every tropical zone on the planet, only then would there be a small concern. And that’s very small because scientists have a molecular switch that they can turn on chemically to make the defective mosquitoes normal and viable again.
8.) Zika is a creation by some scientist!
There are over 40 naturally evolving strains of the Zika virus. The strains that we are aware of today that can infect humans has been around for about 100 years or more. It’s ancestors go back millions of years. Zika is no more of a creation that the common cold, the flu, or HIV.
9.) They are infusing mosquitoes with the Zika virus?
What? The video below is why actual knowledge is more important that spurious ideas, supposition, and the irresponsible parroting of misinformation. No, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito is not being “infused” with the Zika virus. Seriously?
Wikipedia has a great article about Aedes Aegypti and I also recorded a short video myself. I was testing my pc, camera, internet speed, and microphone. I apologize for the horrible quality. I see I need to update my microphone before I go serious with the videos:
Featured image provided by Oxitec.