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Flightless Mosquitoes Could Fight Dengue, Study Says

By rendering female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes – the dengue virus vector – unable to fly, scientists say they may be able to slow the spread of the virus which experts believe “affects up to 100 million people a year and threatens over a third of the world’s population,” the BBC reports. Currently, there is no treatment for dengue nor a vaccine to protect against the virus.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Monday, researchers describe how they genetically altered male mosquitoes to pass along the trait for stunted wing growth to their female offspring (2/23).

“It’s the females” – not the males – “that do the biting, but if they can’t fly they can’t zoom in on their victims,” the Associated Press/Seattle Post Intelligencer writes. “They would be expected to die quickly on the ground, researchers suggest” in the study (Schmid, 2/22). “The scientists estimate the new mosquito breed could suppress native, dengue-carrying insects within six to nine months,” 89.3 KPCV Southern California Public Radio adds (2/22).

“The idea would be to distribute tens of thousands of eggs that would hatch out these genetically modified males, that would proceed to create a new generation of flightless, and thus doomed, daughters,” Reuters reports. “Because eggs are so small and easy to distribute, there would be far more genetically modified mosquitoes than natives, so they could in effect blot out the dengue-carrying population” (Allen, 2/22).

“The scientists say their approach offers a safe, efficient alternative to harmful insecticides and could be used to stop other diseases spread by mosquitoes, like malaria,” the BBC continues (2/23).

“The technology is completely species-specific, as the released males will mate only with females of the same species,” senior study author Luke Alphey, of Oxitec, said in a University of California-Irvine press release. “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 (2/22).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.