Zika Virus and the Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Debate

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In light of the recent headlines about the mosquito-born Zika virus, the debate has been raging over genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes. The spotlight is especially bright with the Rio Olympics wrapping up in Brazil and the possibility of this virus spreading worldwide through international contacts. Now more than ever, government and health officials around the world are making Zika a priority health concern.

Back on August 5th, the Food and Drug Administration approved experimental trials in the Florida Keys for releasing modified mosquitoes in the wild. In the last few weeks since announcing approval, local residents have shown enormous opposition to its release.

The push to introduce GM mosquitoes was based on previous infection cases, in particular when 90 people were infected by dengue fever in the Florida Keys between 2009 and 2010 according to NPR news. Supporters of genetic modification have also pointed to the link between curtailing the Zika virus and GM mosquito experiments performed in Brazil in 2012, which were also meant to fight and contain dengue fever.

In Brazil, mosquito farms were opened in order to control the spread, producing millions of GM modified mosquitoes every month. The Brazilian mosquito release by British scientists at Oxitec were first encouraged by the successful small scale trials run in the Grand Cayman Islands.

The Cayman Island tests were focused on the modification and shortening of male lifespans. In particular, to make males dependent upon the antibiotic tetracycline. For detailed research, international organizations may wish to access the Cayman and Brazilian trials using appropriate language services for interpreting original trial data.

In the state of Florida, Oxitec is being commissioned to perform similar experiments with controlling mosquito populations. According to ABC News, they are looking to release the OX513A version of the modified male. The premise is that the males will carry a specific protein to terminate the Zika infeceted offspring of females once released in the wild.

Between the outbreaks of Zika and the public health issue of untested GM mosquitoes, the debate has become quite intense this month. On one hand, prevention from contacting the virus is critical in light of Zika causing birth defects in pregnant women. On the other, the potential long-term health risks from GM mosquitoes on both human populations and surrounding eco-systems is not to be taken lightly.

In response to the upcoming experiments, opposition has been steadily growing. Local Florida Keys residents have recently formed petitions to demand a stop to the upcoming release. For those who would like to support local residents from other countries, they can use online language services to easily translate and sign the petition at the petitions link above.z

The primary cause for concern by residents is that introducing altered varieties of mosquitoes may cause unknown mutations on the natural population and therefore unknown health risks. Until long term studies can be ascertained and acceptable levels of safety can be confirmed by such studies, the GM debate will likely continue.





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