Viruses such as Zika and Dengue are transmitted through common vectors, a family of mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti is the most commonly known vector that transmits the virus to the human host. Zika illness is largely correlated with a sudden rise in the number of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil.
It is well-known fact that the Zika virus has existed in Africa and Asia for decades, but the recent outbreak in South America a ind its link up with microcephaly gives rise to a number of questions. If Aedes aegypti population has been reduced by 90% through the trial experiment of Oxitec in a particular region in Brazil, why is there a huge outbreak of Zika virus just 180 kilometers away? There had never been a correlation between Zika virus and microcephaly until now and the questions what are the dangers posed by genetically modified organisms? Did the company carry out enough in-vitro experiments before moving the project to a field?
The Genetically-modified mosquitoes are brand new even in the world of biosciences and genetics. Earlier, mosquitoes would be bred and then irradiated to make them sterile before releasing them to an environment. Scientists claim that the irradiated mosquitoes are less healthy and therefore less likely to find mates. The company Oxitec used a drug called tetracycline to keep GM mosquitoes healthy and claimed that wild-born offspring die due to the absence of tetracycline exposure. There remains an ocean of unanswered questions in genetics, is it the right time to conduct field trials that too with a mosquito which acts as a vector for more than two “difficult to decode” viruses.
As industry experts believe, Up to 5% of the mosquitoes did survive to adulthood in lab conditions without the use of tetracycline; there is a meager possibility that some newborn males (from laboratory reared fathers) survived the wild conditions only with many genetic combinations. Did the lab explain why 5% of males survived without the exposure of tetracycline? Loopholes need to be addressed with data, not qualitative points. End of the day, it is a matter of life and death in Asia, Africa, and South America.
The result of the main experiment has not been published yet and trials from Cayman Island are also not that rosy for commercialization. Computer modeling of the findings shows that 2.8 million genetically engineered adult male mosquitoes would need to be released per week to suppress a wild population of only 20,000 mosquitoes.
Zika Virus can be detected through Elisa testing ,suitable for the serodiagnosis of acute and past Zika virus infections. The chemical switch Tetracycline used for the genetic killing mechanism in genetically engineered mosquitoes can backfire to a greater extent. The survival rates can improve through generations when fed with tetracycline contaminated meat. There are a number of sources of where mosquitoes could find tetracycline in the polluted environment of this planet. Also, there is a huge risk of developing strains in the environment that would become resistant to antibiotics used by humans through these experiments. Scientists really need to study the environmental conditions, generation of GM mosquitoes, quite extensively before carrying out dangerous field trials.
Maggie Martin is completing her PhD in Cell Biology, works as a lab tech for Mybiosource.com and contributes content on Biotech, Life Sciences, and Viral Outbreaks. Follow on Twitter@MaggieBiosource