Humanity most dangerous animal may have just met its match, modern science. This animal kills more people than any other, it isn’t the regular fierce alligator, shark or lion; it is something smaller, with more legs – You are on point, it’s the mosquito, an animal that decimates humanity kills more people each year than wars and disasters. However, this could change one day, with a new initiative been given green light by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S., this initiative could significantly reduce and perhaps one day eradicate the mosquito.
Recently, a Kentucky-based biotechnology firm MosquitoMate announced that the EPA has sanctioned the release of male mosquitoes infected with bacteria that stops breeding. These laboratory has grown Biotech mosquitoes are called ZAP males, their genome has been infected with a Wolbachia bacteria. When Zap males breed with the female, the eggs will be unable to hatch, thus effectively ending the mosquito life cycle.
The Wolbachia doesn’t usually naturally infect mosquitoes except when done inside the lab, it is commonly found in insects such as fruit flies. However, preventing reproduction is not its sole function. A study in 2008, at the University of Queensland in Australia, found that the bacteria have the ability to confer immunity to fruit flies and mosquitoes against viruses. Therefore, the Wolbachia has a two-pronged strategy for making it hard for mosquitoes to cause nasty diseases. It makes it hard for mosquitoes to reproduce and secondly, it makes the mosquitoes themselves more resistant to disease.
The inhibiting ability of the bacteria has been well documented in the literature, and for several years researchers have been eyeing Wolbachia as a potential solution to the threats posed by mosquito-borne diseases. The only difference has been that this research finding can finally be put to test on a large scale.
MosquitoMate recently announced the approval of the sale of the ZAP males by the EPA in 20 states. The company currently operates on a five-year contract and it will start distribution next summer.
According to the company, ZAP mosquitoes will be released weekly in yards at the beginning of the mosquito season. The resultant eggs won’t hatch thus resulting in a reduction in the biting mosquito population.
Furthermore, the technology only impacts mosquitoes and does not harm or affect other insects, including butterflies and bees. The company further added that its method is not only safe for other insects, but also for humans. The use of bacteria-infected males means no need of genetic modification or chemicals
Complete eradication of mosquitoes?
For the time being, MosquitoMate focus is to reduce the ever-growing annoying mosquito populations, though some researchers say we should consider going further, “We should consider a definitive swatting”, Olivia Judson, a Biologist once told The New York Times.
In 2003, Olivia was advocating for the complete obliteration of 30 species of mosquito known to carry dangerous diseases. She opined that such effort will barely reduce the genetic diversity of the mosquito family by 1 percent while saving millions of human lives potentially.
Let me paint a picture of how many lives we are talking about: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one million people are estimated to be killed globally by mosquito each year; it is arguably nature biggest killer. Another viewpoint, ISAF estimated that sharks kill an average of 6 people each year globally. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the civil war in Syria has killed about 465,000 over six years.
To give you another idea of the number of lives we are talking about is to consider that barely one million people died during the entirety of the American Civil War. If we estimate the range of people based on the WHO’s current data, globally mosquitoes have silently killed over million people, that is nearly the whole population of Nigeria, the most populous black nation on earth. No matter what side of the divide you are, mosquitoes are slaughtering us on a massive scale, done mostly through the spread of malaria and infectious diseases such as dengue and West Nile virus.
Will there be side effects?
Unfortunately, everyone does not agree that mosquito obliteration is such a good idea. Phil Lounibos an entomologist at the Florida University believes eradication laden with undesirable side effects.
In a talk with the BBC, he argued that mosquitoes contribute to the environment in surprising ways, such as for pollination. They also serve as an important source of food for other animals from birds to bats, frogs to fish. Total eradication of the mosquitoes could have a negative impact on animals on top the food chain.
Furthermore, he warned that if a sudden disappearance of mosquitoes occurs, a hole will be created in the ecosystem which could be filled by any number of other nasty bugs. Eradicating the mosquitoes will somehow result in replacing the devil we know with something that might be far worse.
Worthy of mention is the potential environmental impact, David Quammen a science writer argued that mosquitoes may have unintentionally slowed climate change by making tropical rainforests, virtually uninhabitable for humans.
In truth, nothing tangible has been done to delay this catastrophe over the past 10,000 years, then the mosquito. He argued that the world’s rain forests might not be in such rain-foresty state if it wasn’t for the mosquitoes warding off the human settlement.
Anyway, a time is coming we will have to decide whether or not it’s time for the mosquito to take the dinosaur route. Although MosquitoMate is focused on mosquito management, many experimental trials far beyond mosquito management have been carried out by other companies internationally.
A British biotech firm Oxitec in 2010 carried out an experimental trial with the use of genetically modified males, 96% of the mosquito population in one area was recorded to be eliminated when compared to surrounding regions. This is a proof that mosquito genocide is looming; the only question is whether we should do it or not.