All About Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
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All About Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

Mosquito-borne diseases have been an issue for a long time and have a huge impact on the human population. They are responsible for the spread of diseases like dengue, malaria, zika which takes a toll on human health. In the last decade, various researches and field trial have been carried to deal with the vector so that the transmission of these diseases could be reduced or eliminated.

Some of the approaches include making the mosquito infertile, genetically modifying them so that they cannot produce viable offspring, in some cases the mosquito is genetically modified to carry a vaccine that they can transmit to humans and some are designed to resist diseases. Although these approaches and trial have been proven to somewhat benefit humans their drawbacks cannot be completely avoided. The use of GM mosquitoes raises some serious ethical issues.

Protecting the public, safeguarding the rights and welfare of research subjects, balancing benefits and risks, collaborating with the local community and avoiding exploitation are some of the major ethical issues raised due to the use of GM mosquitoes. One of the major problems faced while a field trial is an impact it will have on the neighbouring population and the public who haven’t signed up for the trial.

Hence to address this problem it has been advised to conduct field trials in only that isolated area which have the targeted disease as a major public health problem, the benefits of the trial for the community are likely to outweigh the risks, the leaders approve of the trial and measures should be taken to protect the welfare of unenrolled members, such as informing the community about the study and closely monitoring them and providing them assistance in case something goes wrong Irrespective of the developing status of a country, every country around the globe faces the problem of mosquito-borne diseases.

While there are treatments available for some diseases, prevention is still the most preferred method for controlling the disease. Many countries due to lack of infrastructure and facilities cannot provide proper prevention against the disease. A preventive measure such as using pesticides or repellents can cause health complications and human and also cause the development of immunity in the mosquito against it. Hence prevention of mosquito-borne diseases has been an area of extensive research and is till of the most famous fields in global health.

Genetically modified insects have the potential to control the diseases spread by insects worldwide. Many GM insects can be used to combat insect-vectored human diseases like dengue, chikungunya virus, malaria. Although GM insects are considered as a tool that can be used to solve the problem of insect-borne diseases but their potential effects on ecology and evolution should be evaluated and studied properly.

Despite getting approval from various agencies and clearing all the safety test we cannot simply overlook the potential problems that could arise due to the release of GM insects in the natural ecosystem. Conditions found in a natural environment is different from the conditions which are provided while conducting lab experiments. Experiments conducted in labs take into consideration a few variable as compared to the variables found in a natural ecosystem. 

Hence the potential ecological effects of these organisms must be identified to determine possible adversity. Releasing GM mosquitoes in the environment can lead to various ethical, legal, religious and social issues. Before conducting any such field trial it is really important to take the consent of the local community where the trial is going to be conducted moreover, public health and environmental risks should be assessed and managed. 

One of the major obstacle that GM mosquitoes can face is the religious believes of people where changing the genetic composition of an organism is not acceptable. The major problem raised due to the release of GM mosquitoes is the impact it might have on the lives of the people who did not give their consent to the field trial but still may be affected due to their release. Should such a trial be conducted which can impact the lives of people or even generations of the population who did not give their consent for it? remains a question.

WHAT ARE KILLER MOSQUITOES?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a new bio-engineered ‘killer mosquito’ weaponized with a bacteria called Wolbachia pipentisa that could help eradicate Asian tiger mosquitoes, Aedes albopictus responsible for carrying infectious diseases like yellow fever, Zika, dengue fever by targeting reproduction. Aedes albopictus can carry dangerous diseases including dengue,Zika and yellow fever. 

“The US government On 3 November 2017, gave greenlit to the biotechnology start-up Mosquito Mate for the release of lab-grown killer mosquitoes into the wild to help stop the spread of disease. Mosquito Mate, a biotechnology start-up based in Lexington, infects mosquitoes with a particular strain of Wolbachia and rear them. The males (which don't bite) are then separated from the females and only the males are released into the environment. These male mosquitoes mate with wild female who do not carry the bacteria Wolbachia pipentisa and produce a fertilized egg which does not hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form correctly.

As more of the infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles.” “Wolbachia pipientis, a bacterial endosymbiont has been useful in the control of viruses spread by arthropods. Mosquitoes carrying the bacteria showed lower viral intensity and did not carry the infectious virus in the saliva indicating that viral transmission was blocked.” “The Wolbachia infection causes an immune response and consumes key cellular resources, which helps to prevent viruses such as Zika and dengue from growing in these mosquitoes.”.

When the infected male mosquito called ZAP are released in the wild population to mate with the female mosquito who do not carry the same strain of bacteria results in the formation of fertilized eggs which don’t hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. Due to the high specificity of the process,no other organism including other species of mosquitoes is harmed during this non-chemical approach.

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