Flightless mosquitoes developed to help control dengue fever

February 22, 2010 b y Tom Vasich
Infected female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit the virus causing dengue fever, but they are rendered flightless in a new strain genetically engineered by UCI and British scientists. Photo: James Gathany

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new strain of mosquitoes in which females cannot fly may help curb the transmission of dengue fever, according to UC Irvine and British scientists.

Dengue fever causes severe flulike symptoms and is among the world's most pressing public health issues. There are 50 million to 100 million cases per year, and nearly 40 percent of the global population is at risk. The is spread through the bite of infected female , and there is no vaccine or treatment.

UCI researchers and colleagues from Oxitec Ltd. and the University of Oxford created the new breed. Flightless females are expected to die quickly in the wild, curtailing the number of mosquitoes and reducing - or even eliminating - dengue transmission. Males of the strain can fly but do not bite or convey disease.

When genetically altered male mosquitoes mate with wild females and pass on their genes, females of the next generation are unable to fly. Scientists estimate that if released, the new breed could sustainably suppress the native mosquito population in six to nine months. The approach offers a safe, efficient alternative to harmful insecticides.

Study results appear in the early online edition of the for the week of Feb. 22. The research is receiving funding support from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which was launched to support breakthrough advances for health challenges in the developing world.

"Current dengue control methods are not sufficiently effective, and new ones are urgently needed," said Anthony James, Distinguished Professor of microbiology & molecular genetics and molecular biology & biochemistry at UCI and an internationally recognized vector biologist. "Controlling the mosquito that transmits this virus could significantly reduce human morbidity and mortality."

Using concepts developed by Oxitec's Luke Alphey, the study's senior author, researchers made a genetic alteration in the mosquitoes that disrupts wing muscle development in female offspring, rendering them incapable of flight. Males' ability to fly is unaffected, and they show no ill effects from carrying the gene.

"The technology is completely species-specific, as the released males will mate only with females of the same species," Alphey said. "It's far more targeted and environmentally friendly than approaches dependent upon the use of chemical spray , which leave toxic residue."

"Another attractive feature of this method is that it's egalitarian: All people in the treated areas are equally protected, regardless of their wealth, power or education," he added.

James and Alphey have pioneered the creation of genetically altered mosquitoes to limit transmission of vector-borne illnesses. While their current work is focused on the vector, they noted that this approach could be adapted to other mosquito species that spread such diseases as malaria and West Nile fever.

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1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2010
I feel like we have absolutely no idea how a genetically engineered mosquito will react in the wild. What if modifying the females this way just creates a new species of mosquito?

We are incredibly arrogant thinking that changing the genetic makeup of a species will have only positive benefits.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2010
Perhaps, over time, the new strain will develop the ability to run across the ground in search of prey, rather than flying, and so you'll see people being bitten on the feet only by these grounded insects, except that now, since the females can bite prey only at ground level, they'll begin to transmit rat-borne diseases as well as dengue!

A better genetic modification might have been to make the females feed on something other than blood of living prey, such as the fluids of decaying dead animals.
not rated yet Feb 22, 2010
Even worse, LariAnn, is the crazed, flightless mosquito crawling up your pantleg with rape in its mind.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2010
That's like breeding snakes with long legs so you can see them coming. How about bees with no stingers? Try breeding scientists with brains. Meanwhile, please pass the DDT.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2010
That's like breeding snakes with long legs so you can see them coming. How about bees with no stingers? Try breeding scientists with brains. Meanwhile, please pass the DDT.
I'm guessing that someone modifying genes to produce these traits put a little more thought into the problem. I can see big problems for a flightless mosquito in the area of reproduction.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2010

"I'm guessing that someone modifying genes to produce these traits put a little more thought into the problem. I can see big problems for a flightless mosquito in the area of reproduction."

Um, I think that's the point.

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