As the Zika virus continues to proliferate throughout the world’s warmest climates, scientists and government officials are scrambling to find a way to control it. The first few locally acquired cases appeared in Florida last month, making Miami-Dade county the only place in America so far where one might be able to catch Zika. Though it has been contained to one small area, the likelihood that the mosquito-borne illness could spread further across our state is high.
All Florida residents know how bad the mosquitoes can get during the summer here, and how it is virtually impossible to avoid being bitten even if repellent is used. The CDC recommendations tell us to stay inside at night, wear long sleeves and pants, and always cover yourself with DEET spray. They are all nice suggestions but not something that we all can reasonably follow all the time. What else can we do?
Well, one company has a solution. Oxitec, a biotechnology lab based out of Oxford University, has created a new breed of genetically modified mosquitoes designed to help destroy their own kind. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the one responsible for spreading Zika, as well as several other nasty diseases like Chikungunya, Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever. Oxitec has found a way to modify these bugs with a certain gene that will cause them to die much faster than they normally would. The female mosquitoes are the ones that bite and make you miserable, and the newly modified mosquitoes are all males who will breed with the females and pass on this fatal gene to their offspring. The babies should die before ever reaching adulthood and having the chance to bite people or lay their own eggs.
It all sounds a little bit like an insect version of Jurassic Park. Remember the part where they genetically modified the dinosaurs so they couldn’t breed and how well that worked out, right?
People will inevitably panic about the idea of creating genetically modified insects, and at first it does sound somewhat creepy. However, mosquitoes are truly the absolute worst creation of a malevolent god and have plagued our planet for far too long. Anything that might defeat the little bastards is something we should all get behind. Genetic modification is a practice that has been around for ages and isn’t nearly as spooky as some people like to make it seem. If you think catching dangerous mosquito-borne diseases is preferable to using technology to fight back against nature, I hope life is nice for you on your tinfoil spaceship of crazy ideas.