A genetically-modified organism (GMO) is when one organism’s genetic material has been altered. Using genetic engineering technique’s scientists have both plant and animal GMO’s to date. Oxitec is a biotech company researching a much better way at ending dengue fever and agricultural pests by genetic modification. They only breed sterile male mosquitoes to end the population that carry vector-borne diseases.
Genetic modification strategies falls into two categories: population suppression and population replacement. Population suppression is when the GMO is engineered to carry a lethal gene ensuring its offspring is unable to carry viruses when they mate with wild individuals, considering their capability for survival or living success especially under particular environmental conditions. Oxitec adds a gene that produces a protein called tTA, this protein stops the cell from turning on other genes. Its not a toxic like radiation, tTA causes the sterile male mosquitoes offspring to die before maturing. Eventually the mosquitoes that carry viruses become dramatically reduced or completely gone.
The Dengue fever is passed on by two species the Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and the Aedes albopictus (the asian tiger mosquito). Both these mosquitoes transmit chikungunya, yellow fever, and dengue fever including other viruses making them the most dangerous creatures on the planet. Dengue fever is the fastest growing mosquito-borne disease with the nickname “Break bone fever” for the severe joint pain it can cause. There are serious systems or fatal conditions affecting 50 million people worldwide; Oxitec breeds only the sterile male mosquitoes from the damaged viral population to slowly reduce the mosquitoes with dengue fever. The mosquitoes with the genes that carry the disease particularly come from many tropical regions including Asia, Australia, and the Caribbean, though recent reports show that 28 U.S. states are now at risk.
The purpose for creating the genetically-modified mosquitoes is to reduce the population size of the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes with mainly GMO mosquitoes that do not carry any vector borne diseases. When releasing GMOs it is important to diminish all the undesirable genes completely, this will increase the GMO population when they mate with wild individuals. Most importantly, the GMOs will dramatically reduce the amount of cases with the disease and deaths worldwide, whether with population suppression or population replacement.
The GMO mosquitoes are being used today genetically engineered by Oxitec’s company and is already making a worldwide change. According to Tracy Thompson, “Oxitec’s genetically-engineered mosquitoes in Panama pilot achieve over 90% control of the mosquito responsible for outbreaks of dengue fever and chikungunya.” The UK, Brazil, and the city of Piracicaba announced a project with Oxitec to fight the mosquito that transmits the fevers. The GMO mosquitoes are becoming very successful and are a worldwide step to reducing vector-borne diseases.