Diseases are often spread by mosquitoes. Some of the main diseases spread by mosquitoes include: Malaria, Zika, Dengue and Yellow Fever.
Malaria caused the deaths of 435,000 people in 2017. 9 out of 10 of these cases occurred in sub-saharan Africa. Researchers are trying to combat Malaria by targeting the mosquitoes that spread the disease. In recent years, they have looked into the option of genetically modified mosquitoes.
WHAT IS GENETIC MODIFICATION?
Genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes are mosquitoes that have had a gene added, removed, or altered in some way. Genes provide the instructions on how to make the parts of an animal’s body, and control most parts of the animal’s life.
HOW CAN GM MOSQUITOES PREVENT MALARIA?
To control the spread of Malaria, scientists have modified male mosquitoes so that when they breed they will produce mostly male offspring. This modification means that over time, the proportion of mosquitoes in the population would be mostly male. This would reduce the number of offspring that can be produced in future generations, and overall reduce the mosquito population.
Crucially, malaria is spread by female mosquitoes. Thus, the mostly male population would reduce the number of mosquitoes that can spread disease.
ARE GM MOSQUITOES SAFE?
There are some concerns about the effects these mosquitoes might have on the environment, agriculture and human health.
In the past, scientists have tried to control mosquito populations using pesticides and chemical sprays. This has often damaged crops. Many are worried that the gene modification done to the mosquitoes will also spread to plants and other animals, damaging them. However, the spread of genes is not as simple as the spread of a chemical spray, and is less likely to occur.
Even so, many tests are being done to determine the risks and minimise them. Scientists will do their best to ensure there is no strong harmful effect from the GM mosquitoes before their release.
GM MOSQUITOES IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Using GM mosquitoes to control the spread of disease has been tested in other countries, such as Malaysia and India. The modification made to the mosquitoes was slightly different, but they were found to be successful.
GM MOSQUITOES IN AFRICAN COUNTRIES
Currently, scientists are hoping to release these GM mosquitoes in the Bana village in Burkina Faso. This will be the first test in Africa. If it is successful at reducing mosquito population and occurrences of the disease, more releases of the mosquitoes may be done in other African countries.