Ebola made prominent headlines in the news all around the world, but not many people have heard of its “cousin” Dengue fever. Like Ebola, Dengue Fever is a hemorrhagic fever, but, unlike Ebola, is transmitted through mosquitoes. More than one million people die from mosquito-borne sicknesses per year, but if treated correctly, only a few thousand of these deaths are from Dengue Fever.
Because Dengue Fever has no known cure, scientists have been working to create genetically modified mosquitoes to limit transmission of the disease. Beginning in September 2014, scientists started to release these mosquitoes in Brazil after many years of research (according to BBC News), and the outlook is promising.
When asked about genetically modified species, Mr Dove, a science teacher at Monticello High School said, “From my perspective, I think I would be a little bit concerned about creating a genetically modified variance of a species and then releasing it into the wild because what you’re doing is you are contaminating that gene pool now with a foreign genotype.”
Every year there are between 50-100 million cases of Dengue Fever reported worldwide and like Ebola, there are no treatments or vaccines for the sickness. For the past few years, scientists have been breeding a new, genetically modified version of mosquitoes that limit the transmission of Dengue Fever. In September, the genetically modified mosquitoes were released in Brazil, the country with the highest number of Dengue Fever cases reported yearly.
The genetically modified mosquitoes contain bacteria called Wolbachia. Luckily, these bacteria are not transmittable to humans.
The bacteria interfere with the ability of the mosquitoes to reproduce. When a male mosquito carrying the bacteria fertilizes eggs from a female mosquito, these eggs will not hatch, leading to a decrease in the mosquito population as a whole. Female mosquitoes containing the Wolbachia bacteria transmit the bacteria to all future mosquito generations.
As more bacteria-containing mosquitoes are released into the wild, this experiment will control Dengue Fever rates in two ways: it will decrease the mosquito population and infect all future generations of mosquitoes with Wolbachia.
The success of the experiment depends on the bacteria. The bacteria will infect future generations of mosquitoes and kill of the eggs of some. If scientists find a problem with the bacteria, it may be difficult to fix since most mosquitoes will be infected with the bacteria and the whole ecosystem could be affected.