Human is the 2nd deadliest animal on the plant! And you would be surprised to know that Mosquito is the deadliest animal on our planet. Fight between these two deadliest classes gives rises to new creation: genetically modified mosquitoes or GMO Mosquitoes. (*Surprise at the end of the post!)
Scientists are manipulating mosquitoes for the purpose of reducing diseases like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever. But are these genetically modified mosquitoes truly the best way to reduce diseases or will they just end up causing more harm than good? Let’s take a good look at genetically modified mosquitoes pros and cons.
What Are GM Mosquitoes?
Genetically modified mosquitoes are being created and released in an effort to reduce mosquito diseases such as dengue & Zika. The genetic modification only targets male mosquitoes. Since only female mosquitoes bite, the idea is that the GM male mosquito mate with wild females, that prevents the offspring surviving to adulthood.
Oxitec, a British company is behind this idea of mosquito control.
How are GM Mosquitoes made?
These Mosquitoes are male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry a “self-limiting” gene in their DNA sequences. This gene doesn’t allow the mosquitoes to survive into adulthood. The GM mosquitoes also contain heritable, fluorescent marker gene which allows scientists to monitor their offspring in the environment.
When GM Mosquitoes mate with wild females, their offspring inherit a copy of this gene, that prevents them from surviving to adulthood. Since the offspring do not mature to reproduce, there is a reduction in the wild pest population.
How they yield Adult GM Mosquitoes?
You might wonder, how are genetically modified mosquitoes being produced in labs if their offsprings die? There is a catch! The larvae are given an antidote which inactivates the self-limiting gene. This enables scientists to rear large numbers of mosquitoes.
The antibiotic tetracycline. When GE mosquitoes receive tetracycline in the lab, they are able to survive and reproduce.
Oxitec states “Those that are released cannot access this antidote in the right quantities and/or at the right time and so the self-limiting gene works effectively.”
Studies reveal that tetracycline is sometimes present in the tissue of various livestock animals raised for human consumption. Could this provide the antibiotic-laced blood meal these GE mosquitoes need to survive?
Benefits of GM Mosquitoes
- Scientists say the introduction of GM mosquitoes will lower the population of disease-carrying biting insects.
- According to Oxitec, in countries like Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands their genetically modified mosquitoes have suppressed wild populations by more than 80%.
- Field-testing of the GM mosquito has not found any significant impact on humans.
- Oxitec states, “Our technology is also environmentally responsible: it is targeted to this one species of mosquito, without affecting other insects like bees and butterflies.”
- No pesticides are added to the environment when using GM mosquitoes. This could reduce the need for using toxic insecticides to kill mosquitoes.
Cons of GM Mosquitoes
The possible health risks of GMO foods are not even entirely cleared yet and we are thinking of releasing the modified deadliest animal in the wild. No one can predict its outcomes on the environment. Before releasing GM mosquitoes, can we answer these questions with 100% certainty?
- Will killing off all of these mosquitoes somehow damage the food chain?
- What if genetically modified female mosquitoes manage to make it into the wild and survive?
- What if they got unpredictable mutations and altered gene expressions?
Also, one of the downsides of this technology is that the cost of producing GM mosquitoes is too expensive and too time-consuming.
Time for Surprise: Oxitec is working with the GBIT for its Friendly™ Mosquitoes project in India, Genetic Modified Mosquitoes project.
This surprise might be good or bad from your perspective. We just hope the Indian regulatory authorities take the best decision possible.