Have you visited the Florida Keys? Situated on the southern tip of the United States, the Keys is a vacation wonderland.
But the area has its share of pesky irritants - we mean the mosquito.
This year, if you are heading to Florida for you summer break, you may want to watch out for some new inhabitants. A mosquito engineered by humans!
Most mosquitoes in the Florida Keys are generally a nuisance. But there is one kind that has been causing concern -- the Aedes aegypti, a non-native species that carries diseases including dengue fever and chikungunya.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control district has been on the front line of a battle against these insignificant yet deadly insects that make up just 1% of the mosquito population of this area!
Dengue is a disease that is spread by the bite of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. When the mosquito bites a human, it can infect our bodies and the disease can exist within us without us even knowing it. It can then suddenly flare up. Though not fatal, it is sometimes called âbreakbone fever' and can be very severe and painful and hospitalizes nearly 500,000 people a year.
Dengue first appeared in the Keys in 2009. Authorities in the Keys have been doing their best to keep dengue infections at bay. However it has not been easy. Traditional methods include hunting mosquitoes where they breed in still water; use of pesticides; vaccinations and introduction of fish to ponds and water sources to eat the mosquito larvae before they hatch.
But now authorities are looking at a new way to control the population -- releasing genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes to destroy its own kind.
So how does this work? This technology has never been tried in the US, but it seems to have been successful in reducing the Aedes aegypti populations in Brazil and Cayman.
Oxitec, a small, private British biotechnology company, has developed a strain of Aedes aegypti which contains a gene that does not let its next generation survive. Letting a GM male mosquitoe mate with the female in the wild could eventually cause the eggs produced by the female to die off - eventually leading to a collapse of the whole population.
Oxitec has even developed a method to track the GM bugs. The modified gene carries a fluorescent protein that acts as a colored marker even in the offspring. The company is waiting for FDA approval to start a trial in a small area of the Keys. But as you can imagine, the plan does not have everybody's support. Many are concerned about the unintended consequences of other GM experiments -- such as crops and pesticides .
Critical Thinking: Do you think it is a good idea to fight mosquitoes with GM mosquitoes? Do mosquitoes play an important role in our environment? What about unintended consequences of GM mosquitoes? Do you think it is work the risk?
Courtesy : CNN, BBC