Wednesday, June 01, 2016
It’s not just for the birds--GM mosquitoes could stave off Zika in Hawaii
GM mosquitoes could provide a powerful control tool which, if used in a properly funded program with support from the public and relevant agencies, could — in my view — greatly mitigate the problem and yes, in short, save these rare birds.--Luke Alphey, a co-founder of British company Oxitec, quoted in Huffington Post
by Larry Geller
Hawaii’s native birds have been and continue to be threatened to the point of extinction by mosquito-borne disease:
Since human contact, 71 of Hawaii’s 113 endemic bird species have gone extinct, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. And of the 42 that remain, roughly 75 percent are listed as endangered species.
[Civil Beat, Can GMO Mosquitoes Save Kauai’s Endangered Birds?, 5/31/2016]
The article discusses using genetically modified mosquitoes to save the remaining species before it’s too late.
I suggested that we should get busy developing this technology locally in order to contain the Zika virus in BBC program suggests use of genetically modified mosquitoes could fend off a Zika outbreak on the Big Island (2/16/2016).
Zika will not just disappear in Hawaii, it will take constant vigilance, and lots of pesticide spray, to keep it in check. Releasing genetically modified males, which do not bite, into the environment can control those mosquitoes without harmful pesticides. The BBC article referred to in the link above explains how it works.
Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animals on the planet. They spread diseases - malaria, dengue and zika – that kill huge numbers of people and cause suffering to many more.
This should not turn into a “mongoose” situation; Hawaii foolishly introduced an alien species only to find that the scheme turned into a major plague of its own. This strategy leaves nothing behind.
Basically, the male mosquitoes mate and die. Their offspring do not live. Goodbye mosquitoes, or at least, vast numbers of them. No sprays needed. No mongooses left behind. Should it not work as expected, we simply stop doing it.
To save the birds we would need to get good at genetically engineering regular-type mosquitoes, not just the kind that carry Zika and dengue. All sorts of approvals would be needed. It would take some effort and time on our part.
But isn’t this a technology we should learn and deploy? So many birds have been lost already… and our tourist-based economy (tourists are kind of an invasive species in a sense) will keep re-introducing Zika to the islands until the rest of the world succeeds in eradicating it.
Zika is only temporarily in abeyance, and more endangered bird species will be lost—unless we get started with this technology that works on both problems.
Update: For a much more comprehensive discussion of mosquito control, see Hawaii Business Environmental Report: Mosquitoes: Tiny, Deadly and Hard to Eliminate (HawaiiBusiness, 5/2016). Thanks: Sen. Josh Green