Aedes aegypti mosquitoes live in a tropical climate and carry dangerous diseases such as dengue fever and the Zika virus. Annually, $1 million USD is budgeted to combat malevolent mosquitoes. The new development by the biotech company Oxitec, which has created genetically modified mosquitoes, will cost less and be more effective. This is an important development because mosquitoes become pesticide-resistant over time.
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Scientists have introduced a lethal gene into male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The modified males are expected to mate with females and pass the lethal gene to the offspring. As a result, the new generation of female mosquitoes dies before reaching maturity as they cannot produce the necessary protein. Genetic modification doesn't affect male mosquitoes, which survive and can mate with females. At the same time, it is females who bite humans since the former need blood to produce and mature eggs. The male mosquitoes drink nectar and, as a consequence, don't infect people with lethal diseases.
According to the results of laboratory research, approximately 3 % of Aedes aegypti female mosquitoes possessing the lethal gene live into adulthood, but they are too weak to produce offspring. However, there is no 100 % guarantee that this tendency will continue, as it is yet to be put to the test.
Today, scientists don't know how the arrival of hybrid mosquitoes may affect humans or animals who live in the same environment as the pests. There are arguments that the Oxitec mosquitoes themselves may harm the local wildlife in unexpected ways. At the same time, some independent researchers remind us that the ecosystem is so complex and includes so many species that it would be impossible to test all of them in advance in the lab environment.
From 2013 until 2015, Oxitec produced millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in one of the regions of Brazil. Later, their genes were found in local mosquitoes, which demonstrates that some female mosquitoes lived to the age when they could mate and pass their genes to the offspring. However, the first hybrid mosquitoes didn't carry the Oxitec lethal gene but carried the genes of the original Cuban and Mexican insect population. Oxitec has already released genetically modified mosquitoes with a lethal gene in the Cayman Islands, Panama, and Malaysia. According to the results of research published in 2016, the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in each of these regions has decreased by a minimum of 90 %. Recently, the modified mosquitoes were found in the United States in the Florida Keys archipelago, the southernmost part of Florida.
02 June 2021
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