Genetically Modified Male Mosquitoes Assist in the War Against Mosquito-Borne Diseases

19 May 2015

On 11 March 2015, Dr Hadyn Parry, Chief Executive of Oxitec Ltd, gave a lecture organised by SCI's London Group (in association with the New York University London), entitled ‘Using Genetic Engineering to Combat Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes.’ Amritpal Singh and Rebekah Ireland, two students who attended the lecture, give their report below.

‘Being aspiring biochemists, we try to broaden our knowledge of the subject by participating in various interesting opportunities outside of our normal lectures. One such opportunity was the recent lecture held at New York University in London by Dr Hadyn Parry, and organised by the SCI London Regional Group.

‘Outlining the role and significance of Oxitec Ltd, the lecture was engaging and thought-provoking. We learnt how Oxitec genetically manipulates male mosquitoes so that their offspring die young and therefore cannot infect humans with disease. This concept is based on the fact that only female mosquitoes bite and infect humans and so by releasing these genetically modified males to breed with the wild females, they are able to control the overall mosquito population in the area of release. It is an incredible business venture, currently concentrating on just one species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which transmits dengue fever. It is hoping to diversify into the control of other vector insects that are involved in transmitting diseases, the main focus being malaria carrying mosquitoes. Hopefully we will be able to use technologies such as these to help control other diseases from spreading. 

‘The talk allowed us to question Oxitec’s underlying principles with our current scientific understanding, and afterwards we were given the opportunity to stay behind and discuss our thoughts with Dr Parry. Our concerns about the effects of the mutations within the modified genes were soon dispelled when he explained how this would not lead to any genetically modified organisms spreading into the wild and disrupting ecosystems as the modified genes are self-limiting. Also, for those of us who were concerned about the possible damage that a decreased population of mosquitoes could cause on the food chain, he assured us that mosquitoes have very little impact on the food chain anyway, and could easily be replaced by other insects as a food source.

‘Although only being addressed to a small audience, the talk was presented excellently and in a clear and understandable way that catered for all those in the audience from undergraduate level to academic researcher level. The atmosphere afterwards was incredibly relaxed and allowed us to socialise with others who share the same interests. Of course with the help of some beer, cider, and cheese and biscuits our discussing of the science was considerably enhanced!’

Amritpal Singh and Rebekah Ireland,
Biochemistry undergraduates at the University of Westminster

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