Genetically modified mosquitoes

Malaysia is considering the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes as a solution to dengue fever. The Malaysian Academy of Sciences is likely to advise the government to press on with field trials of genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes created by Oxitec of Oxford. Oxitec uses the RIDL (release of insects carrying a dominant lethal gene) approach to insert the LA 513 transposon into the mosquito's DNA to produce offspring that die in the larval stage unless fed tetracycline. In the factory, the RIDL mosquitoes breed normally when fed a tetracycline supplement; in the wild, the genetic modification kills the offspring of the released males. If enough sterile males were released, the wild-type A. aegypti population would eventually crash. Oxitec presented their technology to the Academy on May 16, following an evaluation by the Malaysian Ministry of Health in contained-field house trials. Oxitec cofounder Luke Alphey explains that these three-room house trials are “sophisticated and realistic” experiments that test how well these insects compete for mates. Oxitec's technology needs to undergo further regulatory scrutiny and approval, but their approach is nearer term than a dengue vaccine or replacing wild mosquito populations with genetically engineered virus-resistant strains. There are over 50 million cases of dengue each year, and no treatment. “I think this is a very exciting development,” says John Mumford of Imperial College, who also works for the World Health Organization.

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Aldridge, S. Genetically modified mosquitoes. Nat Biotechnol 26, 725 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt0708-725a

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