“You do not respond to a mosquito bite with a hammer.” A better solution is to genetically modify them so they are unable to reproduce. While we deem mosquitoes an annoyance, however they are much more than that. They are carriers of some of the most deadly viruses such as malaria, zika virus and many other deadly diseases.
Malaria alone in 2015 globally had an incidence rate of 94 in every 1000 people and while this is a large improvement from 138 in every 1000 people being infected in just the year 2000 we still have a long way to go before ridding ourselves from it. The virus is commonly transferred through mosquito bites. The female Anopheles mosquitoes are the main carrier of this disease and transfers a single celled organism called Plasmodium into the human body which then enters the red blood cells feeding off them and reproducing. This has lead to 214 million infections and 438000 deaths in 2015 alone.
To further this problem the most common places that this disease dwells is in developing countries that don’t necessarily have good health care meaning the mortality rate from the disease is already higher.
Another mosquito transmitted disease that hit the world stage during the Rio Olympics in 2016 was the zika virus. This cause a birth defects in newborn children called microcephaly that results the babies being born with a deformed head which doesn’t allow for their brain to develop properly as a result this leads to miscarriages, still birth and an increased chance for an otherwise rare nervous system disease called Guillain-barre syndrome. Once again this virus is common in areas where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes dwell.
The United Nations are aware of the problems faced from diseases and in their Sustainable development Goals which is a 17 step program that the General Assembly put out one of the intended goals of completion to “Ensure health and well being for all ages.”On the list of infectious diseases that they want to tackle by the year 2030 is malaria and luckily there are measures already being taken on from companies to do exactly that.
Oxitec is a company with its main target the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which as mentioned before are the main breed of mosquitoes that are responsible for the transmission of the previously mentioned zika in combination to many more such as dengue and yellow fever. The reason being is that these mosquitoes have evolved to almost exclusively feed of human blood. To solve the problem they turned to a new technology called CRISPR, this new development allows for DNA to be modified. The way they are going about solving the problem is by modifying the genetic code within Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. This modification affects females mosquitoes and their off springs by making them incapable to reach adulthood which is the period when they feed off human blood. A few days later the male mosquitoes themselves die off.
The company took this approach as the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes had grown immune to some of the chemicals that are used to spray in the air to kill the mosquitos making old techniques to not produce desired outcome. Meanwhile tests with the genetically modified mosquitoes carried out in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands have yielded impressive results with a 90% success rate in ridding Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the area. The good news does not stop there the chemicals given to cause the gene mutations in mosquitoes are non-toxic meaning that if they were to be consumed by predators the predators would not be harmed. Furthermore aside from this method being more efficient it doesn’t harm the wildlife like chemical spraying does as it would kill other insects in the area as opposing to the gene specific chemicals used by Oxitec.
Nevertheless with every solution come problems first one being an ethical dilemma that we are risking making this specific breed extinct if we are not careful, also it may not stop only at Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as mosquitos have the ability to interbreed giving the potential to kill of other mosquito species. Also it is still not certain what effects this will have if deployed on a larger scale as mosquitoes are an important part of aquatic ecosystems.
To conclude this is a promising new approach to go about ridding these diseases, but precautions must be taken to ensure the survival of the species and other potential damages that can result from it. What do you think, does saving thousands of lives outweigh the risks that come with this solution? Is there a danger to create super mosquitoes similar to antibiotic resistant bacteria? If the remedy works what other goals could be pursue with the money we will save from not fighting these diseases? Is genetically modification the future of medicine?