There are two animal species that lead in killing people, namely mosquitoes and venomous snakes. The former, or their Aedes aegipti family to be precise, have recently reached the headlines due to their role in transmitting the Zika virus, as well as malaria parasite and denga virus. Some people claim that by the end of 2016, more than 4 million people worldwide could be infected with the Zika virus.
As the Zika virus has now reached also the rich countries, they have become concerned and decided to do something about it. First, scientists have started to look for ways to diagnose the infection. In the USA, two methods have already been submitted for the approval of the FDA, so far without success. Nevertheless, one of those diagnostic methods is already offered in hospitals in Huston.
Second, research has begun to find a method of eradicating this mosquito species. One of the proposed methods assumes genetic modification of male mosquitoes so that together with their sperm they produce proteins that will make female mosquitoes infertile (biological insecticide). The second considered method is also based on genetic modification, this time resulting is the death of larvae. When FDA gave green light to performing field tests of the second method in Florida, environment activists defending the mosquitoes immediately spoke against it. However, its producer had already performed the tests in Brazil (there was a threat the sport fans will not come to watch the Olympic Games) and apparently the population of A. aegipti decreased by 90%. Environmentalists probably didn’t know about the tests (or maybe they, too, preferred the fans).
A third way of dealing with the Zika virus could be vaccinations but these are not even spoke about loud. Why? Because developing an effective vaccination takes years, which is then followed by a very long period of debates, doubts, regulations and, finally, legalisation.
What other options are we considering? That the virus will find a different host; that food chain will get disturbed; that we’ll manage to erase one animal species on our own.
If it is so hard to change the fate of a mosquito species that transmits three deadly diseases, we should abandon the illusion that any eco cure will be invented against our Polish mosquitoes that buzz in the ear on a summer night. In any case, I have already bought a mosquito net.
Professor Magdalena Fikus, Ph.D.
Professor of molecular biology, lecturer at many prestigious universities and an outstanding science communicator. Co-founder and co-organiser of the Science Festival in Warsaw and – for many years – the Head of its Programme Board. Member of the EUSCEA, Head of the Council for the Promotion of the Public Understanding of Science PAS, and member of the Copernicus Science Centre’s Programme Board since the establishment of the CSC.
date of publication: March 29, 2016