Thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes
are to be released in Panama in an attempt to stop the spread of the dengue
virus, the Ministry of Health announced Monday.
Dengue, also called haemorrhagic fever, is
one of the fastest-growing tropical diseases in the world and has been classified
by the World Health Organisation as representing a "pandemic threat",
with nearly half of the world's population at risk of contraction.
While the virus has recently spread to locales
as far-flung as Russia, Portugal and the United States, sub-tropical regions
like Panama are particularly prone to epidemics due to a climate that
encourages mosquito reproduction.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the primary
vector of the dengue virus. The engineered mosquitoes approved for release
carry genes that arrest the Aedes aegypti cycle of development by disrupting
the male mosquitoes' reproductive capability.
mosquitoes at bay
Panamanian health officials hope that by
releasing enough of the genetically modified male mosquitoes, whose offspring
don't survive, the overall mosquito population will decline precipitously.
The mosquitoes will be released in three
communities in the Arraijan district, 18 kilometres west of Panama City.
No threat to human health
Health officials in the district told
residents that the genetically modified mosquitoes posed no threat to human
health, due to the fact that males feed on plant nectar rather than human
The director of the health institute
responsible for the operation, Nestor Sosa, said that the modified mosquitoes
represented less of a human health hazard than the large-scale insecticide
fumigation campaigns that are usually carried to control the Aedes aegypti.
"The mosquito's lethal gene causes death
among eggs incubating in water," Sosa said, "so it isn't released
into the environment." Similar technologies have already been applied in
Mexico, the Canary Islands and Malaysia in an attempt to battle vector-borne
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