While scientists are still working on developing a vaccine to counter the menace of the Aedes mosquito borne Zika virus— America’s National Institute of Health announced this week that it would be launching the first-ever human trials—another line of research has been genetically modifying mosquitoes to counter the problem. China, which started a mosquito farm in 2012, is in the process of releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to counter Zika, yellow fever and dengue. The process involves injecting mosquito eggs with Wolbachia bacteria and then releasing the infected male mosquitoes to sterilise the females they mate with. But the process is not new; UK-based Oxitec, in 2012, had created a method to reduce mosquito population where the male species was genetically modified to need an antibiotic tetracycline; released into the wild in Brazil, they caused mosquito populations to crash as mating with unmodified females resulted in unviable larvae. But the company had to stop the process given protests regarding the uncertainty surrounding the process and lack of scientific data.
While China claims that it has been able to achieve 90% reduction in mosquito populations in the past and WHO this year announced more research to be done on topic of GM mosquitoes, countries like US and Brazil are considering to adopt the technique in order to tackle the Zika problem. Although India is still Zika-free, the country should give the technique some serious thought if it wished to control malaria and dengue, two serious mosquito-borne diseases afflicting it chronically.