How China plans on a mosquito genocide with bacteria and how genetic editing isn’t what it promised to be

While getting a mosquito bite is annoying, the tiny animal also takes the crown of the deadliest animal on earth, claiming around 725,000 lives per year. A team of scientists in China took on the job to battle the mosquito problem with an unusual approach, building a mosquito factory.

Instead of targeting existing mosquitos, the scientists decided to sabotage the reproductive system of the insect. The factory breeds 20 million male mosquitoes infected by the Wolbachia bacteria per week.

The bacteria would lead to infertility among the male mosquito population. It would disrupt the lifecycle of mosquitoes when sterile males copulate with females in the wild.  

Xi Zhiyong, the leading scientist said the team already released the modified population on an island in China. The experiment resulted in a 90 percent reduction of the local mosquito population.

Xi said his method could be used to target hotspots and reduce the threat rapidly. It is a better alternative to the genetic modification method.

A recent Yale study invoked controversies genetic modification and exposed some of the problems that come with it.

According to reports, a two-year trial of releasing genetically modified mosquito in Jacobina, Brazil resulted in unintended consequences.

Oxitec, a British biotech company developed the project. It involved a method using bioengineering to add a dominant lethal gene in mosquitos that results in infertile offspring.

A research team from Yale led by biologist Jeffery Powell published a report says otherwise.

“The claim was that genes from the release strain would not get into the general population because offspring would die,” said Powell. “That obviously was not what happened.”

The study said the local mosquito population reduced at first, but after 18-month, the population recovered to the pre-release level. The population would likely become more robust after surviving the incident.

Oxitec said the self-limiting genes could be eliminated by the environment.

The Yale study said the local female mosquitoes could begin avoiding mating with modified males, although Oxitec denied the possibility.

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