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The Promise of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

As the Zika virus spreads unchecked through the Americas, there’s been an urgent search for a way to stop it. In the public policy equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, El Salvador’s government even advised its citizens to avoid getting pregnant until 2018. Yet help may be on the way, NPR reports:

In Brazil, in the wake of mounting concern over Zika, Oxitec has announced it is expanding a program to release genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Piracicaba, a city about 100 miles northwest of Sao Paulo.

The company breeds and releases into the wild male mosquitoes that don’t produce viable offspring. When females mate with the GMO males, they lay eggs that hatch but the larvae die before adulthood. Oxitec says trials conducted in Brazil and other countries over the past decade show releasing bioengineered male mosquitoes can reduce the wild Aedes aegypti population by 90 percent.

We’ve mentioned Oxitec’s mutant mosquitoes before as a potential way to protect against dengue fever, but the Zika crisis might just end up being their breakout role.

Shipping and airplanes give the virus a way to spread—but just as technological innovation creates new problems, so too can it offer solutions. Let’s hope that even if mutant mosquitoes don’t work out, scientists are able to find an alternative in short order.

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