Biotech company turns to genetic modification for curbing mosquito-borne diseases

Mosquitoes carry diseases such as malaria which cause millions of deaths each year


Tech Desk October 24, 2019
PHOTO: AFP

Mosquitoes carry diseases such as malaria which cause millions of deaths each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mosquitoes are labelled as “one of the deadliest animals in the world.”

Nearly half a million lives are affected every year and in Africa alone, $12 billion are invested in healthcare and eradication of the disease.

Such staggering numbers have cost many low-income countries a huge amount in their GDP.

The danger does not end there; we have diseases such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever all carried to the human body by mosquitoes resulting in loss of lives.

The Zika virus is carried by the same mosquito and has affected babies born to infected mothers in 10% of cases.

However, there is hope; with the help of biotechnology, we could possibly resolve this life-threatening crisis.

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The solution to curbing human illness revolves around genetically modifying a small population of mosquitoes and releasing them into the malaria-prone region. By doing so, mosquitoes that carry deadly gene kills larvae before they reach maturity and resultantly curb their ability to carry malaria to others.

Oxitec is a British biotechnology company that over the last 15 years has been using this technology and has historically been successful.

The company was able to reduce 96 per cent dengue cases with a small trial in Brazil and over time they have come up with an effective strategy by targeting biting, egg-laying females while leaving biting males to survive and reproduce.

Anti-GM pressure groups have spent whopping $850 million over the course of five years in order to oppose projects and technology using genetical engineering.

There are some side-effects associated with releasing oxitec mosquitoes such as reduced food for some birds that feed on flying insects or fish that consume the larvae.

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However, oxitec releases genetically modified mosquitoes, some mosquitoes survive to breed and carry on their genes. They have also taken measures to make sure that populations containing the lethal gene eventually go their allotted way.

The WHO had alerted us over ten years ago that infectious diseases are developing at an alarming rate and will soon affect different parts of the world.

With the growing population there is immense need to work towards eradicating such diseases and with the help of innovative and modern technology, such as using lethal genes, is one successful way to wipe out disease-causing mosquitoes.

This article was originally published on Forbes

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