Lifestyle & Belief

Spermless mosquitoes offer new disease hope


Your days are numbered, pal.


Justin Sullivan

British researchers have found that genetically modified male mosquitoes may prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other diseases transmitted by insects.

The BBC reported that the team, whose findings were published in Nature Biotechnology journal, modified the mosquitoes so that their offspring died before reproducing.

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The genetically modified males, released back in 1999 in a dengue-affected part of the Cayman Islands, were able to mate successfully with wild females.

The BBC reported:

When females breed with the sterile males rather than wild fertile ones, there will be no viable offspring, meaning there are fewer mosquitoes around to transmit the disease ... Offspring of their GM males live through the larval stage but die as pupae, before reaching adulthood.

The research team, from a company called Oxitec, included scientists from Imperial College London and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Oxitec chief scientific officer Luke Alphey said the team was surprised at how successful the sterile males were at mating: they made up 16 percent of males in the study, and fathered 10 percent of larvae.

“For this method, you just need to get a reasonable proportion of the females to mate with GM males – you’ll never get the males as competitive as the wild ones, but they don’t have to be, they just have to be reasonably good.”

According to World Health Organization estimates, each year there are at least 50 million cases of dengue fever, which is caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.