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Creation Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fight off Diseases

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The demand for cures that are able to fight off diseases are high. Although, acquiring cures is arduous. As the world grows so does the technology. Technology provides gives boundless opportunities but it can also have negative effects. Unfortunately, cases of vector-borne diseases have tripled nationwide from 2004 to 2016, from 27,338 growing over to 96,075 (Howard, n.pag). One of these vector-borne diseases is Chikungunya. Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to people by female mosquitoes. The disease is imported to other areas by travelers and other ways (cdc). A Biotechnology company that originates in Britain named, Oxitec has created their own Genetically Modified Mosquitoes. These Mosquitoes will aid in diminishing the number of people to get the disease Chikungunya and similar diseases, along with controlling the mosquito population (oxitec). These genetically evolved male mosquitoes have already been used in other parts of the world who also face the same problems as Florida does. In an article published by the Public Broadcasting Service, states “In the Cayman Islands, for instance, where Oxitecs latest intervention began in 2016, mosquito populations fell by 62% “ (Facher, n.pag). This piece of data shows that these lab rat mosquitoes can actually help us.

Since Mosquitoes are carrier of numerous diseases and conditions they are a threat to human lives, especially female mosquitoes. They are the ones that bite and go from one mammal to another, they transmit the disease to their following prey. “It is estimated that there are 3,500 mosquito species worldwide, and 200 of these species are found in the U.S. About 80 of these species have been identified in Florida samples, 33 of which are known to be hazardous to human and animal health.” (mosquitonixsouthflorida). Two species of mosquitoes that are menaces of spreading ill diseases, such as Chikungunya, are the Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus. Both are considered an invasive species. The season to breed for Mosquitoes begin in the summer. Female Mosquitoes breeding habits are interesting, “The female mosquitos average up to 1,000 eggs each during a lifespan of 7 to 10 days. The amazing part: These eggs can remain dormant for 10-15 years throughout all four seasons and not hatch until the summer under ideal conditions” (TickKillz). Female Mosquitoes can lay their eggs in clusters which can either be at the edge of water or float above (placermosquito). Other areas where mosquitoes place their eggs include old tires, containers, tree holes, ditches, snow pools, bird baths. This raises the question about the mosquitos that are in their egg stages, how will they be eliminated due to the fact that when they hatch they continue to carry the disease and infect animals and humans. Also, according to the Center of Invasive Species Research, “The Asian Tiger Mosquito entered the United States in the shipment of used tires from northern Asia in the mid-1980s”. This is connected to the fact that mosquitoes lay their eggs in tires and when the time came these mosquitoes traveled and started to spread the disease while feasting on the blood of mammals.

Chikungunya first originated in 1952 in an East African country called Tanzania (WHO.int). This disease has caused large outbreaks in Africa and Asia and more than 2 million people have been infected. There have about 156 cases reported from travelers returning from affected areas with Chikungunya in the U.S in 2017 (cdc). The disease has also spread over to other areas such as Haiti, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, India, Italy and France (Coffee, n.pag.). Chikungunya can’t kill you but it can have lifelong effects such as causing one who is infected to be exceedingly disabled. There are no vaccines or cures. So, to treat Chikungunya is to get rest, remain hydrated and avoid mosquito bites. To prevent and control one from getting Chikungunya is to use clothing with limited skin exposure, bug repellants, insecticide vaporizers and mosquito coils (who). Tips on controlling possible outbreaks are to reduce the number of containers that include natural and artificial water. Insecticide can also be sprayed to stop flying mosquitos and around containers to stop larvae (who). Though the striped mosquito has developed resistance to the insecticides, Judy Stone a publisher from Forbes wrote, “… this mosquito species has become resistant to four of the six pesticides used against it. That is part of why I support the use of Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes, which have shown a greater than 90% efficacy in reducing Aedes populations in South American trials.” (Stone, n.pag).

Genetically Modified Organisms are organisms with their genetic material altered. It involves the mixing of genes from two different sources. They are used to produce medications and foods (ag.purdue). A scientist gets a gene inserted into the subjects nucleus. Once that is done the scientist will make it develop using naturally occurring plant hormones (ag.purdue.edu).

Furthermore, towards the company who has has created the infamous mosquitoes is ‘Oxitec’. Oxitec is a British biotechnology company formed in 2002 by Oxford University Innovation. The company has worked with Genetic Engineering since the 2000s. They have conducted multiple experiments and continue to span out through other areas. They are in the limelight right now because of the projects they are doing in countries; such as Brazil, Panama, and Cayman. They work with scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, public health and agricultural experts, and community engagement experts. According to Oxitec themselves, “Oxitecs mission is to save lives and improve livelihoods by developing safe, highly effective biologically engineered solutions to control disease-transmitting and crop-destroying insects globally.” The project that involves defeating the deadly mosquitoes is called Friendly Mosquitoes. This project involves male Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes that hold a “Self Limiting Gene”. They mate with the female Aedes Aegypti and the offspring inherits the gene. This stops the mosquito offspring from reaching adulthood since the gene causes it to die off. Since it dies off it won’t be able to mate. All this reduces the population of the one species, the Asian Tiger and does not interfere with other animals (oxitec). This solution method has already been distributed to others parts of the world, such as Brazil, Panama, Cayman Islands, India, and soon Florida (oxitec). To be able to tell the difference between a GMO mosquito and a real mosquito, Oxitec is already ahead on it. Oxitec came up with a ‘Fluorescent Marker’ (oxitec). This marker expresses a protein called ‘DsRed2’. The marker is inherited by the offspring and it glows red under a light (oxitec). This will help tell if the mosquito is genetically altered by Oxitec or not.

Two projects conducted by Oxitec that have been successful were in Panama and Brazil. During 1904, the United States helped Panama to build the Panama Canal which was made to help with trade. Unfortunately, 22,000 workers died due to vector-borne diseases. This made the United States want to eradicate the mosquitoes and their habitats in the area. According to the Economist, “about 700,000 gallons of oil was used and 124,000 gallons of insecticide was used to combat the threatening mosquitoes” (economist). Each mosquito cost about ten U.S dollars to kill (economist). Oxitec has already released the Friendly Mosquitoes in Nuevo Chorrillo and it has 900 people living there (oxitec). The project ranged within six months from, April to October 2014, during that time the population of the Asian Tiger was halted by 93%.

Now, focusing in on Piracicaba, Brazil. Chikungunya and other diseases similar have been affecting Brazil’s citizens. Especially, pregnant mothers because the child can inherit the disease and will suffer severe birth defects. Oxitec has been releasing the Self Limiting Friendly Mosquitoes since 2011. In 2016, Oxitec opened a facility to produce 60 million GMO Mosquitoes every week (oxitec). In an untreated area named São Judas, the Aedes Aegypti faced a 78% halt within six months (oxitec). In Jacobina and Juazeiro, Brazil during 2011 and 2015 Oxitecs Friendly Mosquitoes were also released (oxitec). With the GMO Mosquitoes released,it cut the Asian Tigers Mosquito population by a littles less than 90% (oxitec).

On the other hand, many people believe it is wrong to mess with nature and its natural occurrences. People fear GMOs because it’s different than what we are used to and people get uncomfortable with change. Even with all good benefits the Friendly Mosquito provided by Oxitec, there are huge amounts of people who are against the idea of having GMO Mosquitos interfere with our ecosystem. “Needless to say, the enthusiasm is not universal. Other environmental groups worry that it will not prove possible to contain gene drives to a single place, and that species seen as invasive in one place might end up decimated in other places where they are blameless, or even beneficial… they could have damaging and perhaps irreversible effects on ecosystems.” (economist). The World Health Organizations established guidelines for conducting trials of the GMO mosquitoes in 2014. These guidelines urged scientists to actively involve the public, especially communities and countries directly affected by the research (Gates, n.pag). In an article published by “The Atlantic” it says, “A poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center in February found more than one-third of Americans believed genetically modified mosquitoes were to blame for the spread of Zika. (They’re not.) Others hear “genetic modification” and they think Jurassic Park; or they believe that just because something is natural, it is somehow better.” (LaFrance, n.pag)

Citizens who are in communities that Oxitec will bring their GMO Mosquitos fear not knowing everything and that the outcome will be negative also concerns with safeguards. Another place that has an opposing view is Sweden. The majority of Sweden’s citizens are against GMOs. Only one GMO has been approved for production in Sweden which is the Amflora Potato (Hofverberg, n.pag). The Library of Congress says “Swedes are generally very wary of GM products, especially in food. In a study conducted by milk farmers, 63% of the respondent consumers held that it was important or very important for the milk they consumed to be GMO free.” and “The Swedish Agriculture Market avoids any GMO association” (Hofverberg, n.pag).

The solution that should be implemented to fix this world wide vector-borne problem, is to use the Genetically Modified Mosquitoes. The Genetically Modified Mosquitoes have shown great results towards decreasing the Aedes mosquitoes population as it did for Brazil. Decreasing the population will stunt the number of not only Chikungunya cases, but other diseases carried by mosquitoes such as Zika, Encephalitis, Malaria, Yellow Fever and countless others. If we allow the natural process to take its course, matters could get significantly worse. We are all directly affected by this, so we should take initiative by taking the steps to eliminate this threat

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