Fighting Dengue Fever by Releasing More Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are the bane of the tropical world. They bite, they itch, they spread countless diseases among the human and animal populations. The builders of the Panama Canal around the turn of the 20th century found that massive amounts of DDT temporarily solved the annoying pestilence, but dumping untold volumes of poison in the environment is hardly a long-term solution. Like any smart assemblage of genetic material, the mosquito knows that if it just keeps breeding, even in the worst of times, eventually one or a billion of its offspring will find a way around mankind’s chemical solutions. Right alongside the ever-burgeoning mosquito population rides a tidal wave of evolving bacteria, viruses, and parasites, each becoming more and more resistant to our anti-biotic warfare. One such is dengue fever, which admittedly has never blinked an eye at the lackluster attempts at controlling it medically, a disease with no treatment, prophylactic, or cure save avoiding the buzzing bloodsuckers that carry it. Now Oxford scientists have developed a genetically modified male mosquito, which born in captivity to be dependent on tetracycline to survive, once released into the wild can breed with normal females and pass this trait on to unwitting offspring. Since there are few mosquito-sized pharmacy windows in the deep bush of Africa and Southeast Asia, the now genetically doomed children of these captivity-born males are fated to a short and painful life, if they are ever born at all. Since the female that spawns them only mates once then dies, this ultimately means that each essentially sterile male released into the population serves at a genetic endpoint for the female as well. Of course, you could ask the question: what happens when one of these offspring develops a suppressing trait for this genetic handicap?