Fighting Zika Virus with GMO
The threat of the Zika virus, brought to you by virus laden mosquitoes, has gradually moved from a South American problem disrupting the Olympics in Rio, to a North American problem causing the CDC to issue its first warning to Americans traveling within America. Because of the danger of microcephaly, pregnant women have been advised to not travel to Florida.
What’s to be done? Of course, if you value the life of your child you don’t travel to Florida. But avoidance is not a good strategy for an eventual solution.
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)
Which is why Oxitec has proposed the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to eradicate those that carry the Zika virus. Studies done to directly fight the pathogen generally use a viral vaccine. The method chosen by Oxitec is directed not at the virus but at the carrier of the virus, the mosquito. Their plan is to genetically modify mosquitoes to “suppress the population of the infected mosquitoes.”
The FDA carried out an environmental assessment of the technique which entails releasing genetically modified male mosquitoes to partner with female mosquitoes of the same kind. The scientific classification of the mosquito carrying the Zika virus is Aedes aegypti. The male mosquitoes would pass on genes fatal to the next generation of mosquitoes. The eventual effect would be fewer carrier mosquitoes.
The completed environmental assessment concluded that this strategy will not cause any harm to the local environment. Local and state agencies must also approve the steps necessary for a field trial before Oxitec can proceed. Florida Keys Mosquito Control District will also communicate with local residents prior to a vote to determine if permission be granted for the field testing.
Spread of Pandemic of 1918
One of the greatest factors in the growth of a viral threat is time. The more time given the more exponential the growth. As an illustration, take the Great Pandemic of 1918-1919. The first reported outbreak of the influenza virus in Massachusetts reached California within two weeks with 35,000 Californians having contracted influenza. From Boston to LA in 2 weeks!
The Great Pandemic, a global disaster, killed more people than WWI or the Black Death Bubonic Plague of the 14th century. Reportedly 40 million people died worldwide in the Great Pandemic. How quickly it moved!
While science has made significant steps in the last 100 years, it is amazing how human attitude fails to understand the magnitude of infectious disease. From a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services regarding the Great Pandemic, a PHS officer glumly noted – “there has been a great deal of protest…how the situation will end I do not know…the question is what will the health officer be able to do with the lawyers, who no doubt by tomorrow will be ready to advise their patrons to open up their places of business.” In spite of public exposure.
So while Florida residents think and vote, the mosquitoes carry on. Technology is at times hindered by human obstinance and ignorance. It is not so much a spirit of caution, which is advisable. It is a spirit of fear which refuses to acknowledge the need for action. As 2018 approaches, with the inevitable rise of the Zika virus, it will be interesting to see which wins out: knowledge or panic.