Back to Top Skip to main content

Zapping mosquitoes from the inside out

While chemical mosquito population control measures have been used with some degree of success, they are toxic to other insect populations and to the health of humans. A different angle of defense has emerged, which is genetic modification of the mosquito itself, making it transgenic. Transgenic mosquitoes are unable to transmit a pathogen, such as malaria, due to their altered genetic makeup. (DoD photo) While chemical mosquito population control measures have been used with some degree of success, they are toxic to other insect populations and to the health of humans. A different angle of defense has emerged, which is genetic modification of the mosquito itself, making it transgenic. Transgenic mosquitoes are unable to transmit a pathogen, such as malaria, due to their altered genetic makeup. (CDC photo)

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2 | Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Zika Virus | Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Preventive Health | Innovation | Medical Research and Development | Deployment Health

Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying at summer barbecues. In many parts of the world, they carry pathogens for Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and the most devastating of mosquito-borne diseases, malaria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 440,000 people died in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 from malaria, contracted from the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Malaria causes severe chills, high fever, profuse sweating, and other flu-like symptoms, and if left untreated, can lead to death. Protecting U.S. military personnel who continue to serve in this part of world is critical.

The Department of Defense Armed Forces Pest Management Board has curated various personal protective repellant systems for deployed service members: permethrin-treated uniforms, application of insect repellants such as DEET and Picaridin, permethrin-impregnated bed nets, and prescribed antimalarial medication. They also oversee the Deployed Warfighter Protection Research Program that studies how to mitigate a variety of insect threats to military personnel.

While chemical mosquito population control measures have been used with some degree of success, they are toxic to other insect populations and to the health of humans. A different angle of defense has emerged, which is genetic modification of the mosquito itself, making it transgenic. Transgenic mosquitoes are unable to transmit a pathogen, such as malaria, due to their altered genetic makeup.

The concept of transgenic mosquitoes has been around since the 1980s, although the first laboratory colony wasn’t developed until 1997, according to Dr. Marcelo Ramalho-Ortigao, associate professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland. There are currently two methods used to control mosquito-borne diseases using transgenic mosquitoes. One is population replacement using a concept known as “gene drive” to spread anti-pathogen genes. The other is a population suppression strategy that reduces the number of mosquitoes that can pass on the pathogen.

So far, the idea of using transgenic mosquitoes to combat malaria has been tested in laboratory settings only. However, successful genetic modification of a particular species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti — known to spread the Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya viruses — has been both laboratory and field tested by Oxitec, a United Kingdom-based company.

“This field of study and research has changed dramatically since the discovery and advent of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9, as the speed and the number of genes that can be targeted has increased,” explained Ramalho-Ortigao. Field tests of mosquitoes modified using the CRISPR technology are still in the research and development phase.

Because of the ethical ramifications of gene editing to alter mosquitoes or other species, this concept has always been controversial, Ramalho-Ortigao said. “Controversy and discussions with regard to applications, and especially how to control against unwanted effects, is critical for the advancement of science, especially with regard to transgenic technologies.” Government regulation by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency is a way to ensure studies do not deviate from their scientific goals, he added.

In addition to potentially proving a new tool in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases, “studies of insect transgenics also provide crucial training for the next generation of scientists who may be involved in cutting-edge research and possibly apply techniques they learned using mosquitoes or other insects as a model for higher organisms,” explained Ramalho-Ortigao. He pointed out that insects “share many common features with vertebrates with regard to gene expression, ability to mount an immune response to invading microorganisms and viruses, and certain behavioral traits.” Scientists may therefore be able to apply knowledge gained about insects toward organisms “higher in the evolutionary scale, including vertebrates,” he said.

Although humans may not miss mosquitoes if they were to be eradicated, our ecosystem would. “Mosquitoes play an important role as pollinators," said Ramalho-Ortigao. “Also, they are a food source for other insects, spiders, frogs, lizards, and birds.” He added that not all mosquitoes transmit disease and only females blood feed, which allows them to lay eggs. In fact, of the nearly 3,000 known mosquito species, only a fraction transmit diseases. Complete elimination could lead to the expansion of other species or an increase of the population of a species that is currently present in smaller numbers – creating a whole new bug problem.

You also may be interested in...

Bug Week Screensaver

Photo
7/2/2019
This screensaver can run on your facility's computer and/or television screens during the week. Contact your local IT department to see how you can include it in the rotation.

This screensaver can run on your facility's computer and/or television screens during the week. Contact your local IT department to see how you can include it in the rotation.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2

Bug Week Social Media Promotional Graphic

Photo
7/2/2019
You can use this promotional graphic on your social media platforms. Be sure to use the hashtag, #BugWeek2019 and tag @MilitaryHealth in your post!

You can use this promotional graphic on your social media platforms. Be sure to use the hashtag, #BugWeek2019 and tag @MilitaryHealth in your post!

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2

Bug Week Twitter Banner

Photo
7/1/2019
Join the fun! Download this banner and use it as your temporary Twitter cover photo during Bug Week.

Join the fun! Download this banner and use it as your temporary Twitter cover photo during Bug Week.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2

Bug Week Facebook Banner

Photo
7/1/2019
Join the fun! Download this banner and use it as your temporary Facebook cover photo during Bug Week.

Join the fun! Download this banner and use it as your temporary Facebook cover photo during Bug Week.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2

Flag Football Game

Photo
9/28/2016
Youth participate in a flag football game on Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Travis Gershaneck)

Youth participate in a flag football game on Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Travis Gershaneck)

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Children's Health | Physical Activity

Healthy aging starts sooner than you think

Photo
9/23/2016
Air Force Staff Sgt. Nick Crouse, a medical technician with the 193rd Special Operations Wing's Medical Group out of Middletown, Pennsylvania, takes the blood pressure of a patient. Heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are three ailments that take a huge toll on the body as it ages. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force Staff Sgt. Nick Crouse, a medical technician with the 193rd Special Operations Wing's Medical Group out of Middletown, Pennsylvania, takes the blood pressure of a patient. Heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are three ailments that take a huge toll on the body as it ages. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health

Breathing techniques

Photo
2/26/2016
Airmen and Soldiers practice breathing and relaxation during their off duty time in a deployed location. Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Airmen and Soldiers practice breathing and relaxation during their off duty time in a deployed location. Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Mental Wellness
<< < 1 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 7 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.