By Janet Fang
Posting in Cities
To control dengue fever in Florida, a biotech may release mosquitoes engineered to produce offspring who die before the disease can spread.
To control dengue fever, one biotech has developed genetically modified mosquitoes whose offspring die before they can spread the disease.
These mosquitoes have already been released in Brazil, Malaysia, and the Cayman Islands. In Key West, Florida, the disease reappeared 3 years ago, after an absence of over 70 years.
- Their mosquitoes (known as OX513A) are an engineered version of Aedes aegypti, the main transmitter of dengue fever, which infects at least 50 million people a year.
- The modified males carry a lethal gene kept in check only by a special diet.
- They survive to mate with wild females, but the offspring die.
- In field tests conducted in Juazeiro, Brazil, the engineered insects shrank the A. aegypti population in an 11-hectare area by 85% over a year.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) in Stock Island is a taxpayer-funded operation that spends more than $1 million a year to control A. aegypti in Key West with insecticides.
In 2010, the FKMCD asked Oxitec if it would do a field trial with its mosquitoes in Key West. The next year, the company applied for FDA approval. A media report that very month suggested that officials were hoping for a mosquito release as early as January 2012, prompting concerns among residents.
The petition raises prospects of unintended consequences, such as the emergence of a deadlier dengue virus that gets around the absence of A. aegypti. And residents in Key West say they don’t want to be tested like “guinea pigs” and “I don’t want my family being used as laboratory rats for this.” Michael Specter writes in The New Yorker:
There is, of course, another theoretical catastrophe to consider: a dengue epidemic in Key West. So far the city has largely been spared, but the region, as Oxitec’s chief scientist Luke Alphey told me when I spoke with him for my article, is “living in a sea of dengue.”
When Oxitec opened up Moscamed, a mosquito-production facility, earlier this month in Juazerio, residents cheered. But the University of Sao Paula team engaged the community before seeking approval for their trial from Brazil’s agency for biotechnological safety, CTNBio.
Image: female Aedes aegypti / CDC
Related on SmartPlanet:
- What’s not green and come in cagefuls? Efficient GM mosquitoes
- Genetically engineered mosquitoes to fight disease
- 6,000 GM mosquitoes run amok in a Malaysian forest
Jul 19, 2012
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Most folks think that genetic mutations are changes in the code(base arrangement), but some mutations are known to be caused by genes that should be turned off, but get turned on, or by genes that should be turned on, but get turned off. With no change in the DNA sequence. Suppose the mosquito adapts to having a 'suicide gene' by turning it off. Then, what do we have? Well possibly, we get a very long-lived mosquito capable of stinging many people. After all, it is the humans who have the disease that give it to the mosquito first. IE, more stings means more cases of the disease. 'Mix and Match' GMO has a Murphy's Law aspect to it because we know too little to think that we are not making potentially big mistakes. Pay them to do research on humans? I think not.
I hope the GMO skeeter doesn't have an adverse effect on any of its predators. . . I love dragonflies, too. Makes me fearful of bT for mosquito control.
I love dragonflies. Perhaps our 'skeeter' problems are due to too few dragonflies. Perhaps we killed too many dragonflies with insecticides while trying to control 'skeeter' populations. Dragonflies are expensive to buy(about $1 each) and you need a permit from the USDA to buy them. Perhaps people's fear of this big and harmless insect is why we ignore their destruction. I'd love to see more dragonflies and if it meant seeing fewer 'skeeters', that's just too bad for the 'skeeters'. And why do you need a permit to buy dragonflies? Am I missing something here? Is 'skeeter' control more profitable than handing out free dragonflies? I'm chasing a 'skeeter' around my Florida Room as I type this...wish it was a dragonfly.
Far too many journalists with no education in the sciences are writing ignorant drivel about the sciences. Dengue virus is primarily transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, particularly A. aegypti but can also be transmitted by A. albopictus, A. polynesiensis and A. scutellaris. Mosquitos, humans, and nonhuman primates are the only hosts for the disease. Elimination or reduction of hosts, primarily mosquitoes, does not have any mechanism to create a deadlier version of the virus; and in fact, should greatly decrease the chance of any such occurrence. Funny thing about dengue. There are 4 varieties. Get one and recover, you're immune to that one for life, and immune to the others for a short time. Get infected with one of the others after the immune period, and you're much more likely to have a far worse, and deadlier, illness. There is no vaccine, so the only means of prevention is to not get bit, and especially not get bit twice. And you can only do that by: 1. not living where the mosquitoes live, 2. live in a plastic bubble, 3. eliminate all mosquitoes, 4. eliminate the disease in all the hosts.
100 years ago people were fearful of the noisy machines called horse less carriage. They were often banned or regulated. Genetic modification is happening wether you like it or not. Trying to eliminate or reduce a dangerous invasive species of mosquito is a good thing. It would be helpful to read up on the technology being proposed before you make negative comments about it.