Making Our Worst Enemy Our Best Friend

Hadyn Parry; Engineering Sterile Mosquitoes to Irradiate Dengue Carrying Mosquito’s

Haydn Parry , stated that “the most dangerous animal, is the mosquito”, and frankly, I agree. Mosquito’s cause more than 300 million global cases of Malaria per annum, resulting in almost 1.2 million deaths. They pose as vectors that are significant in the transmission of virus’s such as Malaria, Yellow Fever and Dengue. In addition, even though its flight is limited to approximately 200 yards during its life, its capacity for laying eggs grants it the potential to spread disease over long distances.

Originally mosquito related epidemics were controlled utilising lava-sides and chemical smog. Both forms of control proved ineffective as can be shown by a global increase in moquito population.  Oxytech industries, run out of Oxford University, is a company that pioneers solutions relating to crop and pest control. Recently they have been working on project with the aim to irradiate specific disease spreading mosquitos.

This put them in flight to design a program that would be effective at

  • decreasing mosquito populations
  • being “safe to human” health
  • having no lasting impact on the environment, being species specific (so not to harm insects important in sustaining  alternate ecosystems)
  • being affordable by developing countries

Oxytech has achieved this by manipulating two features of mosquito biology

  1. Male mosquitos don’t bite. Only female mosquitos bite.
  2. Phenomenon: Male mosquitos are extremely attracted to female mosquitoes. “If there is a male mosquito that you release, and there is a female around, that male will find the female”
The male mosquito has been implanted with a gene that causes him to be sterile. By reproducing the eggs of sterile male mosquito, and releasing them into the atmosphere, there is a higher probability of a female mosquito mating with a sterile male; this reduces the population of mosquitoes over time by decreasing the chance of live offspring.
The innovation has no additional risk to human health because male mosquitoes do not bite. And if they do not mate with a female mosquito “they will die anyway”. Oxytech’s system is mosquito specific. This causes a negligible change to other various ecosystems.

This invention has been designed to suit countries that have insufficient resources. Producing sterile male mosquitos is a cheap enterprise because

  • two hundred and twenty million sterile male mosquitos can be produced in a four meter by four meter lab
  •  low freight costs : three million of these eggs can be exported in a box the size of a “coffee cup”

Oxytech’s novelty has been trialled in small villages of (~2000- 3000 People) in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil, in which mosquito populations have decreased on average by approximately 85% within the first 4 months of trials. This accomplishment has driven  Oxytech to scale up this operation; catering to towns with populations beyond fifty thousand.

 Oxytech’s plan utilises mosquitos to destroy the plague that they cause. What can be called our worst enemy, Oxytech have made, our best friend.
References
1. 5 TED Talks about mosquitos—and how to stop their proverbial buzzing | TED Blog. 2013. 5 TED Talks about mosquitos—and how to stop their proverbial buzzing | TED Blog. [ONLINE] Available at: http://blog.ted.com/2013/01/03/5-talks-about-mosquitos-and-how-to-stop-their-buzzing/. [Accessed 24 May 2013].
2.Oxytech released The west nile infected mosquitoes – YouTube. 2013. Oxytech released The west nile infected mosquitoes – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mI-Qjc723M. [Accessed 24 May 2013].
3.What is dengue fever?. 2013. What is dengue fever?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.health.qld.gov.au/dengue/info/definition.asp. [Accessed 24 May 2013].
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