Monday, April 14, 2014

Swarms of Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes Will Take a Bite Out of Dengue Fever

Swarms of Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes Will Take a Bite Out of Dengue Fever

In order to fight dengue fever, which is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, counterforces of genetically-modified mosquitoes are being released in unprecedented numbers in Jacobina, Brazil. 

The mosquitoes are all non-biting males that have been modified to carry two genes that makes them and their progeny dependent on the antibiotic tetracycline, the absence of which in the wild will prevent the next generation from reproducing.

“It is like a live insecticide,” Aldo Malavasi, the president of the Brazilian company Moscamed that’s raising and testing the GM mosquitoes in Jacobina, told The Global Post. The other newly-added gene is a marker that shows up on a special light so the spread of the GM mosquitoes can be monitored.

So sure: mosquitoes, chemical failsafes, and a lab-grown species separated out by gender. The comparisons to Jurassic Park stop there, but it's good to get these things out of the way.

The dengue virus has been a big problem in Brazil and around the world. Last year the country reported 1.4 million cases of the disease, for which no vaccine exists, and worldwide, cases of dengue have experienced a 30-fold jump since the 1960s. It infects an estimated 390 million people per year across the globe, and in its most severe form, dengue haemorrhagic fever can lead to shock, acute pain, coma, and death.

Obviously there are concerns about releasing a genetically-modified animal into the wild. “They are even harder to recall than plants are if anything goes wrong,” Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch, said.

But the initial trials of fighting mosquitos with GM mosquitos thus far have been positive. After a series of contained evaluations, GM mosquitoes were first released into the great Brazilian outdoors in the February of 2011. In the December of that year, Dr. Margareth Capurro of the University of Sao Paulo lead another suppression trial that gave more evidence that genetic modification was working where mosquito nets and pesticides weren't.

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