Panama will release modified mosquitoes

Un trabajador fumiga una escuela.

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Panama is the latest country to consider releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in its territory to try and combat the spread of the fast-moving Zika virus. The country’s health ministry is looking into the ‘viability and feasibility’ of expanding a study that killed off disease-carrying mosquito populations by genetically altering the lifespan of their offspring.

A worker fumigates a school.

A worker fumigates a school.

It involves introducing male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes whose genes have been altered to mate with the females. But their genetic modifications mean the males’ offspring then die at the larvae stage – far before reaching reproductive age.

The genetically modified ‘father’ mosquitoes themselves don’t spread disease, because only the females bite. In 2014 the original project, carried out in a town west of Panama’s capital, resulted in a 93 percent decline in the mosquito population in the area.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is responsible for spreading Zika. It also transmits dengue fever and chikungunya. Joseph Conlon, a technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association, called the results ‘novel and potentially efficacious.’

Conlon said the procedure is not 100 percent effective, but if it is allowed to proceed to full measure, it will ‘reduce the mosquito population below disease transmission levels with minimal effect on the environment.’ He added that the Aedes aegypti ‘are notoriously difficult to control by conventional spray methods such as truck or aerial sprays.’

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