In 2015, there were more than 15000 cases of dengue with mortality figures reaching 60 deaths in the capital New Delhi itself. This was considered the worst outbreak in the last 20 years. Caused by the bite of the dreaded Aedes Aegypti female mosquito species, Dengue has continued to be a huge public concern in many developing countries including India for a long time now. Approximately 2.5 billion people live in dengue-susceptible regions with about 100 million new cases each year worldwide. (Source)
Apart from the personal trauma, dengue continues to be a huge economic burden on the country. Last year, during the unusual surge in dengue cases, the economic pressure on the country was estimated to be around $1.11 billion. This was established in a study conducted by the INCLEN trust, ICMR, the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare and Brandeis University in Massachusetts. [Source] About 80% of this expense was borne by private centers.
While research by independent scientists and collaborative institutes continues to pave way for progress in fighting dengue, the mosquito has also become the main reason for other diseases such as the recent Zika outbreak. With the quick evolution of the mosquitoes and new disease outbreaks reported almost every day, there is a need to speed up the process and secure a credible curative procedure to fight the virus.
One such is exploring the genetic modification method. In simple words, a new gene is incorporated into the said male mosquito?s DNA which do not bite and when these mosquitoes mate with the wild type females. The progeny arising out of these mating do not grow beyond a certain period of growth stage and die. Continuous mating in open environment ensures reduction in the population growth to a large extent and thereby drastically reducing the chance of dengue incidence. Since the male mosquitoes do not survive beyond the normal period of lifecycle and the progeny where the gene has been transferred also die the technology has been termed as ?Self-limiting technology? which means that they do not persist in nature. Oxitec announced success in this regard when this mosquito was released in the Cayman Islands in 2010, it led to an 80% reduction of the Aedes aegypti.
Critics argue that these mosquitoes impact environmental balance. However, studies prove that GM mosquitoes do not have any adverse impact on the environment. Aedes Aegypti are an invasive species, therefore removing an invasive species would not have any consequences towards the environment. Also, no unfavorable impact on humans? and other animals? health is found by the researchers.
These Self-limiting mosquitoes have the potential to usher in a revolution in terms of eradicating Dengue and other such vector borne diseases from the world, and the invention is very promising. In this simple technology lies the solution to the dilemma of more than 37 countries. It is a matter of only giving it a chance!