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    World Mosquito Day: Can genetic modification techniques quash the menace?

    World Mosquito Day: Can genetic modification techniques quash the menace?

    World Mosquito Day: Can genetic modification techniques quash the menace?
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    By CNBCTV18.com  IST (Published)


    Genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes are prepared in labs and are supposed to fight the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which spread viruses including dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. Billions have apparently been successfully released in the US, Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Panama, and India.

    Mankind has reached space, fixed the ozone hole, created metaverse, fired hypersonic missiles and prolonged human life. But we are yet to figure out the tiny and lethal mosquito. Or maybe we have found a way to root them out.

    All through history, mosquitoes have been killing us and yet we don't have any weapons in our arsenal to deal with these buzzing blood-sucking parasites.

    So far, our inventions to combat the mosquito threat have been underwhelming at best. Take mosquito coils for instance. We light up a coil, shut windows, bear the choking smoke and within a short span of time the effect wears off — not to forget the unknown effects of the fumes on the human body. Mosquito repellent creams also fall in this category. They rarely smell good, irritate skin and are ineffectual after a while.

    Now, scientists have come up with a new solution — genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes. These are the mosquitoes prepared in labs that are supposed to fight the real wild mosquitoes. As Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread viruses, including dengue, Zika, and chikungunya, scientists have hit upon a way to modify them genetically and then use them to control the wild mosquitoes.

    GM mosquitoes have a self-limiting gene. It prevents female mosquito offspring from surviving till adulthood. So, once GM mosquitoes reach adulthood, they mate with female mosquitoes. If the offspring is a male mosquito, it's not a cause of big concern as only female mosquitoes bite. However, if the offspring turns out to be a female, it’s born weak and dies before reaching the adult stage in its life cycle.

    Besides, GM mosquitoes are induced with a fluorescent marker gene. This helps researchers identify them in the wild. However, GM mosquitoes only control the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, while a community may have several other types of mosquitoes.

    In some states of the United States, it is allowed by law to release GM mosquitoes. According to experts, GM mosquitoes are the alternatives to insecticides used to control these pests as evolution has made mosquitoes resistant to our conventional ways of fighting them.

    Apart from the US, GM mosquitoes have been successfully released in parts of Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Panama, and India. Over one billion mosquitoes have been released so far. The success of these experiments is still being examined. Nevertheless, GM mosquitoes spark hopes that for the first time in human history we may have found a way to effectively eliminate mosquitoes.

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