WITH NEW warnings of an epidemic by the WHO, panic over the mosquito-borne virus, Zika, is beginning to rise exponentially. And while, for most of the population, Zika is nothing to worry about, the increased attention means that finding a solution once and for all has become a bigger priority.
A company called Oxitec, who bill themselves as, “a pioneer in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops,” has begun work on genetically modifying mosquitos of the Aedes aegypti species, hoping that by introducing new genetics that prevent new births into the environmental pool, they can control the spread of the the virus through reduced reproduction.
This isn’t necessarily a novel idea–sterilizing insects has been used as a method of population control in the past–but has been problematic for this particular use because sterilized insects (usually accomplished through radiation) usually simply stop mating altogether, leaving only a single generation affected.
Oxitec’s new method allows the mosquitos to remain sexually active, while preventing new births. While mosquitos are possibly the least deserving of such a bro move, the method stems reproduction with more competitive male insects, decimating the population much quicker. A spokesperson for the company has said they’ve seen more than 90% suppression in trials of their genetically engineered mosquitoes.
Oxitec is planning on rolling out these modified mosquitos in Piracicaba, Brazil, an area that’s particularly hard hit by Zika. Right now, the mosquitoes are able to cover about 5,000 people in a district of the city, but the company plans to spread the mosquitoes to soon cover the entire urban center. The company hopes to expand its efforts in the future to cover up to 300,000 people.
There’s currently no cure for Zika. And while “more mosquitos” is the last thing on anybody’s wish list, in this case, it’s the best chance we have on wiping out the outbreak.
h/t: Business Insider.