Friendly Mosquitoes Can Help Save Lives

What would life be like without mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes cause more deaths than any other organism on the planet, accounting for approximately 17% of all infectious disease deaths. Mosquitoes can transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the primary vector of the dengue, chikungunya, Zika, and yellow fever viruses around the world.

Aedes aegypti is a mosquito species known for transmitting illnesses such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus. This mosquito was originally found in Africa, but it has since spread to many other regions around the world. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is most active throughout the day and prefers to breed in stagnant water. This makes regions with poor sanitation and a lot of stagnant water, such as urban slums, especially vulnerable to mosquito-borne disease outbreaks.

“The important thing here is that we’re not going to have a world without mosquitoes. This is one mosquito species out of about three and a half thousand different species of mosquito.”

The good news is that a large-scale pilot project introducing new Friendly mosquitoes achieved 96% suppression of the dengue-spreading mosquito population in Brazilian urban communities.

Dengue fever is a tropical virus-borne disease. Mosquitoes transmit it. Fever, headache, muscle pain, and a rash are among the symptoms. Dengue fever can cause serious illness and, in some cases, death.

Friendly mosquitoes are exactly that, non-biting Aedes aegypti males, who go onto mate with wild females and pass along a lethal mutation that prevents female offspring from reaching adulthood.

Oxitec is a UK-based biotechnology company that is responsible for the design and implementation of the Friendly mosquitoes initiative, as well as a pioneering developer of biological pest control solutions. Oxitec was founded in 2002 at the University of Oxford in the Oxford University Insect Research Group. Oxitec specializes in pest control using genetically modified insects. Oxitec’s first product was a genetically modified male mosquito that mates with wild females and produces offspring which die before entering maturity when released into the wild. This diminishes the mosquito population and, as a result, the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever.

Another feature of the dengue-spreading mosquitos targeted by Oxitec in Brazil is that they are an invasive species. “It originally comes from Central Africa, it should not be in Brazil at all. So it’s not a critical part of the ecosystem there,” says Dr Rose.

According to Oxitec, their technology is the first genetically modified pest-control product available for purchase by governments, households, businesses, and communities. This works by merely adding water to mosquito eggs, which hatch inside of a few days.

“Other ways of controlling mosquitoes include spraying chemicals, and those will obviously hit not just the species but many other things in the environment that are really beneficial. So we think that this is a really targeted way just to get rid of this mosquito, which is causing significant problems for human health.”

Will this reduce the number of deaths caused by the mosquito? Surely, but more research and development needs to be done before the global death rate from mosquitoes spread illness can be substantially reduced.