Millions of mosquitoes to be released to control mosquito! Sounds weird?

Scientists claim mosquito population can be reduced by 95% through the new method

Malaria mosquito Representative image

Mosquitoes are everywhere; more than just buzzing, they carry a host of viruses, posing a huge health threat in almost all cities across the world.

So far, all efforts and experiments to control this deadly pest have been failed and millions of dollars have gone in vain. One million people die and seven hundred million people get illness every year due to mosquito bite, according to World Health Organization. 

Now, a new study claims that the number of mosquitoes can be reduced effectively by 95 per cent. Oxitec, a British-based bio-technology company, has come with a new idea to kill the pests by altering the genome of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes which spreads diseases like dengue, chikungunya and zika. The experiment was conducted on male mosquitoes who are not bloodsuckers, but survive on nectar and plant saps. 

Scientists modified the genome of male Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes and created a new strain which carries a protein that kills female offspring before its adulthood. The surviving males mate again, but reduce the population drastically. As the males don’t bite people, it is assumed that this experiment would prevent human being from dengue and zika virus infections. 

Mosquitoes have six needles. They use these needles on our skin like a broom and one needle goes into our micro sweat glands. Through its needle, mosquito injects a potent mix of proteins called anopheline into our body to prevent blood clotting. Through its spit saliva, deadly virus and bacteria enter our body and consequently people get sick. Given these facts, many companies are doing research in mosquito control, vector diseases and the scope of developing blood thinners from anopheline for patients with blood clotting in body.  

Oxitec has been testing the new modified strain for more than a decade. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also approved the plan last month, and the upcoming trials will be carried out next year in Harris county in Texas. 

While the proponents of the trail claim that these mosquitoes would never bite people and pose no risk to public, the environmentalists and a section of scientists have their share of concern. Recently, those opposing the study, protested in front of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District office which deals with 40 kinds of mosquito species. There is a long history of mosquito-related diseases in Florida because of its marsh rich environment.

Earlier, Brazil had been dangerously affected with zika virus infection which causes brain growth of fetus in human beings. In between 2015 and 2016, the virus affected about a million and a half people in Brazil. It was after that Oxitec got green signal for experimenting this method. The new strain of mosquitoes was developed by crossing a strain from Cuba and Mexico and was released in Jacobina, Bahia, Brazil each week for 27 months. The result was interesting; the population of mosquitoes reduced drastically up to 85 per cent.

Authorities are in favour of allowing Oxitec’s method since the mass spraying of insecticides would cause to the death of several non-target insects, such as bees.

Even before the trial, Oxitec had a pilot study in Brazil, Malaysia, and the Cayman Islands. In lab tests, roughly 3 per cent of their offsprings survived when the GM males mated with wild females.

Some scientists are concerned with the impact on ecology with the new strain, because the surviving mosquitoes may have more genetical variety and may make the population stronger that would eventually create super wild bugs. Oxitet has been studying the new strain for past 18 years and has extensively checked the genome of new generation. It claims that the altered genes are transferred to the next generations and majority of them die before adulthood so that it gives no threat to population.