Genetically modified mosquitos: Biohacking for disease prevention.

D. Maloney,  HACKADAY,  2021.

Mosquito control is basically a numbers game, stacked in their favor. Since each female lays 100 to 200 eggs in a clutch, in wet climates, mosquitos are simply too prolific to get ahead of using standard means. Coupled with collateral damage to the environment — draining wetlands carries potentially huge impacts on a wide range of species, as does the indiscriminate use of pesticides — the search for new control methods with less harmful ecological side-effects has led to research into genetic methods of reducing mosquito populations. The idea of genetically engineering insects is nothing new. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has had its genome extensively modified for over 100 years, first using standard mating and crossing techniques and later using transgenic methods to insert, delete, and edit genes. The result has been a wealth of knowledge about how the genetics of higher organisms work, as well as models for human diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s. But in general, transgenic fruit flies are simply model organisms destined to live and die in the lab. The concept of building a genetically modified insect for release into the wild is fairly new. Oxitec, the company behind the planned releases of transgenic mosquitos in Florida, has been working on the genetic control of a range of pest insect species since it was founded in 2002. They are currently on their second generation of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which is the insect that will soon be tested in Florida. The mosquito, dubbed OX5034, has been genetically engineered to be self-limiting. Both male and female OX5034 mosquitos carry a synthetic gene that is lethal only to females. The plan is to release OX5034 male mosquitos into a wild population where they’ll breed with unmodified females. These females will take a blood meal and lay eggs that carry the synthetic gene. Only the male eggs in the clutch will develop into adulthood; the females will all die during the larval and pupal stage, which will eventually reduce the number of blood meals taken and the potential for disease spread.

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