Are Zika-killing modified mosquitos our best weapon?

8 Aug 20168 Shares

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The latest plan to halt the spread of the Zika virus involves genetically-modified mosquitos eliminating hosts of the virus in Florida. Desperate times etc.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the trial of a new, mutant, genetically-engineered mosquito.

The plan is to introduce these newly-designed mosquitos into the Florida Keys to eliminate the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitos, thus halting the spread of the virus further into the US.

Zika

Oxitec is the company behind the mosquitos, which are armed with extra genes to make reproducing unlikely among females. If they are released in enough numbers, then the thinking is they will halt widespread reproduction, reducing the number of Zika-bearing insects.

Oxitec’s next step is to get local support in Florida – from the state’s own mosquito control body, as well as residents – to run trials, which it claims can halt the spread of Zika by up to 90pc.

These figures were achieved in trials in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands, according to the company.

“We’re really pleased,” said Oxitec chief executive Hadyn Parry. “Aedes aegypti is public enemy No 1. It is exclusively a human vector, it lives in and around the home, if you go into the centre of town, that’s where it is.”

According to the FDA, Aedes aegypti is “known to transmit potentially debilitating human viral diseases”, including Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya.

Though it is present in certain US states, it’s far more prevalent in South America.

Earlier this year, the spread of the Zika virus from Brazil to other parts of the world was officially linked to cases of birth defects in babies born to mothers infected with the virus.

In its situation report on the virus, the WHO said that, since its first discovery in 2007, the Zika virus has now been documented in 64 countries, 42 of which have experienced their first outbreak from 2015 onwards.

Mosquito image via Shutterstock

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com