January 10, 2013
Imagine the world’s deadliest animal. No, it’s not the lion, tiger, or bear. It’s not even the human. It’s a mosquito. Mosquitoes have killed more people in human history than wars and plague. Each year, there are two hundred to three hundred million cases of malaria each year and from that approximately 1.5 million deaths.
In a world with so much sanitation, money and knowledge wouldn’t we be able to fix the problem of a pesky bug? Malaria was not well known fifty years ago quailfying it as a fairly new battle to fight. The dengue fever, a virus carried by one type of mosquitoes, the Aedes aegypti.
When stung by a mosquito carrying the virus, you first experience flu-like symptoms. Later on, patients experience a feeling that their bones are breaking giving it the nickname, breakbone fever. Having this disease and surviving give your lifelong immunity to that certain strain. Here’s the catch: there are four strains and although you are immune to the one your previously suffered from, you are much more likely to get another strain. When experiencing dengue fever again, symptoms are much more sever and the rate of survival is much lower.
This tiny bug that can only travel 200 yards in its lifespan has made its way to over 100 countries through its eggs. So how do we prevent this virus? Fogging? Pesticides? Hadyn Parry, after working with student at Oxford University has come up with a solution: genetically re-engineering the mosquito. Parry and his team have taken advantage of the male mosquitos of this breed for two reasons: they do not bite and they can easily find females. This gene causes the offspring of the re-engineered male mosquito and diseased female mosquito to die at an early age.
After 4 months of field studies in small communities, students have found 85% decreases in this mosquito breed’s population. Parry claims to be working on using similar technology to help end malaria.
What other ways could we use this technology?
What are some downfalls to this?