I recently came across an article talking about Oxitec’s release of transgenic mosquitoes into the wild as part of their Dengue control innovation/ research.
Who is Oxitec you ask … ? Well, Oxitec is a British company. They have been pioneers in controlling insects that carry spread disease like malaria, yellow fever, dengue, etc. They also work on controlling insects that are harmful to crops. How do they do this? As you may already know, technological advancement has made it easier for us to manipulate the genetic makeup of species, insects included.
In its fight against insects that bear “bad news” Oxitec has designed a novel species of mosquitoes carrying a gene called OX3604C (the OX stands for Oxitec). This transgenic species of mosquito fights dengue using the RIDL method. RIDL stands for Release of Insects carrying a Lethal Dominant gene. In the past (as early as 1950s), male insects were sterilized and released into the environment to mate with females. Of course such mating resulted in no reproduction as the males are sterile. This way, scientists were able to eradicate harmful insects in certain areas. Tsetse fly was one of such insects, and it was eradicated in a certain location in Tanzania in 1997; Tsetse fly carries the pathogen (trypanosomiasis) that causes sleeping sickness. RIDL is an improvement on this older method called sterile insect technique, SIT for short.
Back to Oxitec and OX3604C.
So, Oxitec released their mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands in 2009, but the world did not get to hear of it till November 2010. Of course this raised a lot of dust and the scientific community began to ask questions. If this field release of mosquitoes was as safe as reported, why the long silence before the news was made public?
A bit more on this RIDL mosquito. Male moquitoes are released with this gene, they mate with females, and any female offspring from this mating offspring will be rendered incapable of reproduction. They will be flightless. The females are the ones that suck your blood; the males enjoy sweet nectar from plants.
Men. So unable to fly, these females cannot escape predators, cannot seek out mates and cannot mate. In short, no females, no children, no one to carry malaria parasites as well as other disease pathogens.
Let’s bring this home. I for one has had malaria not once, not twice, but multiple times and frankly I never thought much of it till I got older and started hearing and reading of the millions that die from malaria. Dengue is quite new to me (like a lot of other things are), and though I’ve heard of sleeping sickness and elephantiasis, but it was only recently that I really understood the burden these diseases heap on human beings.
Now, with your knowledge of disease, poverty and anything else you believe weighs in, what do you think of the release of insects carrying these lethal genes? Do you care that mosquitoes are being attacked for no fault of theirs? Mind you, your favourite brand of raid, shelltox, moquito coil, etc. kills innocent mosquitoes as well. The other question we need to ask is this: If you believe God created all species smart, don’t you think that at some point these mosquitoes will get smart and figure out a way to mate with normal males?
Share your thoughts please. I would love to hear them. And I must say that severe itching I got from taking Chloroquine a number of times was not funny.