Over the past few years mosquito borne diseases have spread at an alarming rate, and have moved back into areas that had eradicated them decades ago.
Dengue, malaria, Chikungunya, and several types of encephalitis are transmitted by mosquitoes, and together they threaten the health and lives of hundreds of millions of people each year.
Global Spread of Dengue
Although the use of insecticides has helped to control their spread, over the years many of these weapons have either gradually lost their effectiveness or have been withdrawn from our arsenal over health concerns.
Scientists around the world have been working on several alternative solutions, and while not without controversy, the development of GM (genetically modified) mosquitoes is beginning to show real promise in mosquito control.
Over the past several months , in The Latest Buzz On GM Mosquitoes and Malaysia: `Terminator’ Mosquito Field Test On Hold I wrote about the planned tests of the so-called terminator mosquito, which has been bio-engineered to carry a lethal gene that it will pass on to its progeny that will cause them to die in the larval stage.
Created by the Oxitec company, a firm created in 2002 as a spin out from Oxford University, the OX513A mosquito is the furthest advanced of several genetically modified mosquito projects they have in the pipeline for the control of Dengue.
Oxitec has a short FAQ page on their technology, which you can access here.
The plan was to do a test release of several thousand GM mosquitoes in hard-hit Malaysia, but critics and activists mounted a vigorous campaign to dissuade the Malaysian government from proceeding.
They fear that the introduction of an `artificial’ mosquito into the environment could somehow spark unintended, and harmful, consequences.
While a Malaysian test is still in the works, those delays enabled the Cayman Islands to become the first test bed for these modified mozzies.
Early results, as you will see, have been very promising, with a reduction in mosquitoes in test areas of up to 80%.
First a report from the Cayman News Service, followed by an informative 5-minute promotional video explaining the use of these GM mosquitoes from the Cayman Island Government Information Service.
Posted on Sun, 11/21/2010 - 18:15 in Science and Nature
(CNS): The release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Grand Cayman poses no threat to people says the director of the MRCU. A project which is seeking to suppress the stinging dengue carrying pest using male insects which have been genetically altered to be infertile have reduced the mosquito population without using chemicals. The trial has attracted considerable attention, however, because the details of the release seemed to have stayed under the radar. Government did produce a short documentary segment about the project in which the MRCU partnered with the UK firm Oxitec Limited but little information has been circulated in the public domain. Dr Bill Petrie has said people have noting to fear from the trial.
Although clearly designed as a public relations tool to reassure a public that has become increasingly leery of anything genetically modified, these reports provide us with a fascinating and detailed look at what may turn out to be a new and effective way to control mosquito borne diseases.
Since I’m not a geneticist, or a scientist of any stripe, I can’t speak directly to the safety and wisdom of GM mosquitoes.
But as a bite-weary blood meal for thousands of hungry mosquitoes over the years, I certainly hope these scientists and researchers are on the right track.