By Anupum Pant
A brightly coloured truck originating from a mosquito factory nearby, loaded with millions of mosquitoes, goes by, making a loud announcement through the massive loud speaker system mounted on its top saying something like, “We are releasing millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes in your area.” How would you react to something like that? I’d be stunned. Although it’s no reason for me to be startled, I’d still run for my life. You’d probably do the same, unless you are in the small town of Jacobina, Brazil and you know exactly what’s going on.
Something similar is happening in other places like Cayman and Malaysia too.
Chikungunya and dengue fever are very nasty tropical diseases which are spread by the Aedes mosquitoes. These can lead to troublesome syndromes and also cause death. And malaria is already a big killer, taking about 600,000 lives every year. Widespread in Africa, Asia, and India, these diseases have now spread to the Caribbean, and the US too.
Not many people are really putting innovation into making this stop. The usual methods to deal with mosquitoes like poisoning water where they lay eggs and fogging small areas are still the only state-of-the-art methods that are in use. One company, oxitec, wants to do more.
What do you think you need to stop dengue, chikungunya and malaria from spreading? Oxitec thinks, more mosquitoes is the solution. But there’s a catch to it. The more mosquitoes they are putting in the system are actually genetically modified mosquitoes – killer mosquitoes.
Oxitec factories, like one world’s largest mosquito factory somewhere in Brazil is making male mosquitoes that have their genes altered. So, when these are released and they start mating, they produce an offspring that does not survive for very long. So it never grows up to bite. If enough GMO males are released from time to time, and the numbers of females are less, this method works the best.
See how these factories work – Link
There’s still a lot of things this method has to prove to the government to make it a standard method to eliminate mosquitoes.
There are of course some problems associated with the process. Like one being: The method is based on the principle that male mosquitoes do not bite and only the safe kind of gender, genetically modified males will be released. But the process which makes these, makes about 300 females in a 3 million male population. That’s the error. And no one knows what happens when a GMO female mosquito bites you. That’s one reason it is still under review of the food and drug administrations.