New Weapon to Fight Zika: The Mosquito

Jan 31, 2016

Photo credit: Cristiano Burmester for The New York Times

By Andrew Pollack

Every weekday at 7 a.m., a van drives slowly through the southeastern Brazilian city of Piracicaba carrying a precious cargo — mosquitoes. More than 100,000 of them are dumped from plastic containers out the van’s window, and they fly off to find mates.

But these are not ordinary mosquitoes. They have been genetically engineered to pass a lethal gene to their offspring, which die before they can reach adulthood. In small tests, this approach has lowered mosquito populations by 80 percent or more.

The biotech bugs could become one of the newest weapons in the perennial battle between humans and mosquitoes, which kill hundreds of thousands of people a year by transmitting malaria, dengue fever and other devastating diseases and have been called the deadliest animal in the world.

“When it comes to killing humans, no other animal even comes close,” Bill Gates, whose foundation fights disease globally, has written.

The battle has abruptly become more pressing by what the World Health Organization has called the “explosive” spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus through Brazil and other parts of Latin America. Experts say that new methods are needed because the standard practices — using insecticides and removing the standing water where mosquitoes breed — have not proved sufficient.


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20 comments on “New Weapon to Fight Zika: The Mosquito

  • @OP – The battle has abruptly become more pressing by what the World Health Organization has called the “explosive” spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus through Brazil and other parts of Latin America.

    It is good to see some technology being used to fight back against the disease, but many of these problems are of human making caused by those with no respect for the environment – in Brazil, Peru, and many other countries! –

    They are “trying to fix the bolt on the stable door when the horses are long gone“!
    Governments ignoring warnings from environmental scientists in favour of listening to short-termist exploitationists seeking quick profits, has a long term cost!!!

    http://www.theglobalist.com/the-golden-curse-of-the-peruvian-amazon/

    A few decades ago, Suriname, a former Dutch colony situated along the northeast coast of South America, was one of the wealthiest countries in that region, a situation that changed after bauxite (its main export) left the country in a very difficult economic situation. To overcome that, the government of Suriname has been portioning off vast areas of the rich rainforest to multinational mining companies.

    However, as in the Peruvian Amazon, gold exploitation brought with it several economic, physical, health and environmental effects. It produced serious soil and landscape degradation, left open pits with standing water that are a fertile habitat for disease-carrying mosquitoes that facilitate malaria transmission, and left serious mercury contamination in the rivers. Many of these effects persist even after the mining activities have ceased.

    Mercury contamination is not the only drawback of small-scale mining, however. Another serious problem is the significant amount of deforestation it produces while clearing forests for the construction of roads to open remote areas to transient settlers and land speculators. Deforestation also results from cutting trees to obtain building material and wood to be used as fuel.

    In Peru, the enormity of the damage has been documented in a study by American, French and Peruvian researchers published in the peer-reviewed magazine PLoS ONE. According to the study, using satellite imagery from NASA, researchers were able to assess the loss of 7,000 hectares (15,200 acres) of forest due to artisanal gold mining in Peru between 2003 and 2009. This is an area larger than Bermuda.



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  • http://kids.mongabay.com/lesson_plans/lisa_algee/mining.html

    Land dredging involves miners using a generator to dig a large hole in the ground. They use a high pressure hose to expose the gold-bearing layer of sand and clay. The gold bearing slurry is pumped into a sluice box, which collects gold particles, while mine tailings flow into either an abandoned mining pit or adjacent forest. When the mining pits fill with water from the tailings, they become stagnant water pools. These pools create a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other water-born insects. Malaria and other water-born diseases increase significantly whenever open pools of water are nearby.

    Warnings about this have been ignored for years!



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  • The problem in the amazon, is the sheer number of abandoned small mining operations which leave pools where mosquitoes breed.

    http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0037-86822013000200172

    Larval control of Anopheles (Nyssorhinchus) darlingi using granular formulation of Bacillus sphaericus in abandoned gold-miners excavation pools in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest

    Anopheles darlingi is the main vector of parasite of malaria in Brazil. Malaria transmission is primarily restricted to the Amazon region, and is prevalent in some states where settlements for gold mining have been established1. In the state of Amapá 14.4% of the malaria cases in 2008 were associated with gold mining, 78% of which occurs in the municipality of Calçoene where the gold mining district of Lourenço2 is located.

    Various method of control have been tried.



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  • I’m sorry, Alan4discussion, but I think your information is misleading. As a brazilian myself, the issue with abandoned mining pools has nothing to do with the recent outbreak of Zika virus. Your information may be valid for malaria, but the spread of the Zika virus has only started in Brazil shortly after the football world cup, with no cases being recorded before august 2014 and the first cases being misdiagnosed as chikunguya as of december 2014. Studies have shown that most likely the Zika virus entered our borders due to the flux of african fans/tourists who came to see the world cup, since it is not a native virus. It has since spread in urban areas, far away from abandoned mines. The Zika problem is mainly an urban problem and it is a bigger issue on the largest cities on the northeastern coast, such as Recife or João Pessoa, thousands of kilometers away from the Amazonian rainforest or abandoned mine pools.



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  • Paulo Contin
    Feb 1, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Your information may be valid for malaria, but the spread of the Zika virus has only started in Brazil shortly after the football world cup, with no cases being recorded before august 2014 and the first cases being misdiagnosed as chikunguya as of december 2014. Studies have shown that most likely the Zika virus entered our borders due to the flux of african fans/tourists who came to see the world cup, since it is not a native virus. It has since spread in urban areas, far away from abandoned mines.

    There is no doubt, that global travel has a great deal to do with the spread of diseases and invasive species.

    However the World Health Organisation and the Brazilian government have declared a public health emergency and regard its potential spread a serious threat.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/01/zika-virus-world-health-organisation-declares-global-health-emergency

    UN body acts over mosquito-borne virus linked to serious birth defects which is ‘spreading explosively’ across the Americas

    The World Health Organisation has declared a “public health emergency of international concern” due to the apparent link of the Zika virus to a surge in serious birth defects in South America.

    “After a review of the evidence, the committee advised that the clusters of microcephaly and other neurological complications constitute an extraordinary event and public health threat to other parts of the world,” Chan said.

    She said an international coordinated response was necessary, although there was no reason to introduce restrictions on travel or trade. Mosquito control was the top concern, she said.

    Meanwhile, Brazil’s president signed a measure on Monday allowing health officials access to any building to eradicate breeding grounds for a mosquito spreading the Zika virus.

    The measure signed by president Dilma Rousseff allows health officials access to all homes, public and private buildings even if the property’s owner cannot be located. Officials can also request backup from police to raid any building suspected of being a mosquito breeding ground.

    The UN health agency warned last week that the mosquito-borne virus was “spreading explosively” in the Americas, with up to 4 million cases expected in the region this year.

    I’m sorry, Alan4discussion, but I think your information is misleading. As a brazilian myself, the issue with abandoned mining pools has nothing to do with the recent outbreak of Zika virus.

    I do not think it is the source of the outbreak, but they are potentially a major vector in providing mosquitoes to spread the infection, as the earlier issues with malaria show.
    The abandoned mining pools also have the potential to act as reserve sources of the mosquitoes and the virus, as they do for malaria.



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  • The proliferation of mosquitoes arises from the proliferation of dirty little ponds or temporary pools of water, as their larvae are aquatic.

    In rivers, lakes and ecologically stable ponds, there are fish which eat the larvae, keeping down the numbers – unless someone has sprayed insecticide around the water to reduce the mosquito larvae, and killed the fish as a side effect! Toxic metals also build up in predators at the top of the food chain. The larvae will also breed in water tanks or any holes dug and left to fill with rainwater.



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  • 8
    Pinball1970 says:

    This is the third thread I have posted on regarding removing mosquitoes from the food chain.

    Via sterile off spring seems a good way but conventional methods will suffice, I have referenced the panama canal.

    We now have the Zika virus getting the headlines, but I don’t think we really needed another disease with far reaching consequences, to convince anyone this is a dangerous animal.

    What I do need is input from an ecologist, environmental biologist or food chain expert to explain why we do not completely eradicate it now.

    Plenty of speculation, but some cold hard facts, data, studies would be helpful.

    Cue Alan, David, Phil, Dan, Laurie , Bonnie and the rest of widely read community on here to put me in my place.

    Alan I have your info on the negative impact of deforestation and mining/ standing water in South America- thanks



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  • Pinball1970

    I also want to know more about the ecological consequences of mosquito eradication and I’m waiting for more information about this too.

    What I am worried about right now are the long term consequences of infection by a virus that can’t be eradicated by medical means. I’m searching for information about this but not coming up with much. We know that zika infection is linked to microcephaly in neonates but how long will this risk last for childbearing women? For her entire childbearing years? Given that the virus can’t be “cured” then this is a consequence that is frighteningly serious.

    The Brazilian government has asked women for a two year waiting period before they attempt pregnancy and yet they have archaic laws and views about contraception and abortion. How will this play out?

    Will South American countries finally see the light and liberalize its reproductive laws and and medical access?

    If South American countries won’t give women safe, legal access to contraception and abortion, will we see a huge increase in back alley abortions and the deaths that go with them?

    Will the Catholic church that is directly responsible for keeping women in a state of reproductive slavery still arrogantly maintain its threats of hell fire eternal torture for women who try to take control of their own reproductive anatomy?

    Reminder; it’s mostly poor women and especially women in the under developed countries previously known as third world countries. Western women of means ignore this misogynistic requirement imposed on them by the old white patriarchal Pope asshole.

    Now is when I’d love to see a public access campaign aimed at women to back the side that really does have their best interests at heart. I imagine a TV video spot that bluntly states:

    The Pope and his staff won’t let you prevent pregnancy. Then if you discover that your baby will be deformed, they force you to have that baby whether you want to or not. Once it’s born, they won’t help you raise it or care for that child in any way. Meanwhile, the Pope and his entourage sit pretty in the opulent Vatican, enjoying their obscene wealth with their selfish, spoiled old boys club. They don’t care about you or your problems at all. Leave the church and join the people who fight for your right to control your own body and your own family.

    I should include the entire region in this question due to the fact that the Catholic church holds this place in its iron grip of anti-female reproductive slavery.

    Here is a report about the attempt to liberalize abortion laws in Brazil. Source: National Public Radio:

    http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=464995788&m=464995789

    Another question that enters my mind has to do with long term population demographics. Years from now, when we look at the birth rate of South America, what will the graph look like?



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  • LaurieB
    Feb 3, 2016 at 9:42 am

    The Brazilian government has asked women for a two year waiting period before they attempt pregnancy and yet they have archaic laws and views about contraception and abortion. How will this play out?

    That’s the problem with religious based “charities”! They feed the starving, but do nothing to deal with the causes of the problems – as is illustrated by the camps in Somalia! Even when in squalid refugee camps living on charity, they still breed like rabbits!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dadaab

    According to the UNHCR, 80% of residents were women and children and 95% were Somalian nationals as of mid-2015.[3][14] Of the registered Somali refugee population, the number of men and women is equal, but only 4% of the total population is over the age of sixty.[2] Each year, thousands of children are born in the Dadaab camps, and now many adults have spent their entire lives as refugees living in the camps.[2][12] These individuals have been referred to as the “camp’s first children.”[12] One of these refugees, Aden Ibrahim, reports a sense of displacement and feeling like he is neither a Somali nor a Kenyan, while also not feeling like he belongs in the Ifo camp where he lives.

    As of August 2015, 60% of Dadaab’s total population is under the age of 18,



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  • 12
    Pinball1970 says:

    Yes Laurie in an extremely catholic part of the world condoms/abortion would be frowned upon.

    Advice from the church will be similar to what was given regarding AIDs stricken parts of Africa, abstain because condoms are worse than HIV (or something like that- its hard to hold onto details of that sort when they are garbage)

    We have two natural disasters coming together Christianity and the Zika virus.

    Killing the mosquito now may already be too late if it has taken hold in the general population in affected areas.

    Generations of children with severe and permanent neurological conditions, no cure for the carriers who will continue to have children who are spreading the virus via sexual transmission.

    It could be the new syphilis, carriers do not die (for years anyway) whilst pregnant mothers pass it on to generations of children.

    No reply function tech team?



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  • @Alan4discussion

    comment-196573
    Feb 3, 2016 at 10:16 am

    That’s the problem with religious based “charities”! They feed the starving, but do nothing to deal with the causes of the problems – as is illustrated by the camps in Somalia! Even when in squalid refugee camps living on charity, they still breed like rabbits!

    Yes, this is a problem and I agree that the Catholic church is a dastardly force that frightens women into fear of burning in hell over the use of contraception, but I think the problem may be deeper than that and one that even a secular charity may fall into as well. Some years ago I would have made this serious mistake myself.

    I read a book called The Fragile Wisdom: An Evolutionary View on Women’s Biology and Health by Grazyna Jasienska. I read it in September, 2014. I know the date because the book was chock full of information and I took notes on it for future reference.

    The book explains how closely women’s fertility is tied to nutritional status. This is a deep evolutionary relationship that may not be clear to those outside of the field of evolutionary science. There was an interesting story in the book that illustrates the problem caused by charitable groups that work to increase the nutritional status of women and then inadvertently cause more nutritional insecurity to the very group that they wanted to help in the first place. Here is the paragraph that I wrote in my notes. I can’t tell now what is directly quoted from the book and what I have paraphrased for my own use. The book has gone back to the library now so I can’t reproduce it exactly and give proper citation.

    Notes: In Ethiopian villages after water taps were installed, reducing work load for mothers who used to walk miles every day to fetch water, the mortality of newborns and children was decreased but the nutritional status of all children declined. Mothers released from the burden of bringing water had more time for child care which was needed for babies in poor condition. As more babies survived, competition for food resources increased. The number of children in the family was growing but food to feed them was not. This would explain a decline in the nutritional status of children in water-tap villages.

    (me) So not only were more children staying alive but the decrease in mothers’ energy expenditures decreased, allowing them to gain weight and this had the effect of increasing their fertility status so that they became pregnant more often.

    (notes) In general, if the mother receives additional energy, either by increased intake or decreased expenditure, she is unlikely to use this surplus to improve the condition of the child she is currently carrying in the womb or nursing. Instead, she allocates these resources for the faster production of the next progeny. If children survive and reproduce, this strategy would benefit maternal evolutionary fitness but may not be desirable from a demographic or policy perspective.

    Short birth intervals create several negative circumstances for children. In urban Brazil, children born following intervals shorter than 24 months had: 1. Lower birth rate. 2. Higher mortality rate. 3. Poor nutritional status at 19 months.

    End of notes.

    The author points out that it is very important for charitable providers to understand that improvement in women’s nutritional status is a direct signal to the reproductive system that conditions are favorable for production of an offspring. All food aid programs must be accompanied by a program of birth control and education to go with it otherwise the population explosion that follows the food aid will make the situation intolerable and put the population at greater risk than they were in before the aid showed up in the first place.



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  • LaurieB
    Feb 4, 2016 at 9:01 am

    All food aid programs must be accompanied by a program of birth control and education to go with it otherwise the population explosion that follows the food aid will make the situation intolerable and put the population at greater risk than they were in before the aid showed up in the first place.

    Ah! But that depends on the motivation of providers.

    If the objective is to solve the starvation crisis and re-establish a self sustaining population, it would be done as you suggest.

    If however the objective is to provide a nicey-image platform for some “religious charity”, an increase in membership subscribing to that particular dogmatic delusion, and a feel-good sensation for the donors back in the rich world, aggravating the actual problem does not matter to them! If anything, it provides an argument for seeking more resources and expanding their empire!



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  • As a person of the Turkish Cypriot community whose people, on the island, have had to endure relative isolation, as a result of Greek Cypriot ‘recognised’ governments actions,internationally, I have to ask if it’s right for any organisation to impose anything, other than education, on a people and effectively put their lives on hold. An already depleted population, due to circumstances, held indefentently from moving forward. Camps are fine but must be allowed (somehow?) to function and progress ready for return. Integration is best but that causes other problems. The problem in Cyprus has been going for over 50 years. Not exactly camps but only recently allowed to progress in the north. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for those in camps and what they think about the future and the survival of their kinfolk. It can be because no one wants to tackle these issues and basic charity is all that’s on offer.



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  • @Olgun
    Feb 4, 2016 at 10:32 am

    no one wants to tackle these issues and basic charity is all that’s on offer.

    It’s a good point Olgun. What a massive tragedy we have. All the refugees and displaced people living in “camps” in hopeless misery. It’s a real life dystopia and just getting worse by the day.



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  • @Alan4discussion
    Feb 4, 2016 at 9:29 am

    nicey-image platform for some “religious charity

    UGH! Don’t even get me going on this. I hope you don’t think I’m defending religious charity! What with my ranting on the topic of the RCC at the drop of a pin I’m sure you don’t think that. 🙂 Just saying that it’s a mistake that could be made by a bunch of atheists too.



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  • It seems the Zika virus is in Colombia and is already using global transport systems to travel further!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35490524
    Spain has confirmed that a pregnant woman has been diagnosed with the Zika virus – the first such case in Europe.

    The health ministry said the woman had recently returned from Colombia, where it is believed she was infected.

    Zika, which is spreading through the Americas, has been linked to babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the microcephaly condition, linked to the mosquito-borne virus, a global public health emergency.

    The WHO on Thursday also advised countries not to accept blood donations from people who had travelled to Zika-affected regions, the AFP news agency reported.

    The link between Zika infection and microcephaly has not been confirmed and the risks at different stages of pregnancy are unknown.”

    In a statement (in Spanish), the health ministry said the pregnant woman was diagnosed as having Zika in the north-eastern Catalonia region.

    It did not release the woman’s name, saying she was one of seven confirmed cases in Spain.

    It said two more patients were in Catalonia, two in Castile and Leon, one in Murcia and one in the capital Madrid.



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  • It looks like scientific innovation, could provide solutions to some of these mosquito related diseases!

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-45028733

    Australian researchers say for the first time an entire city has been protected from viral disease dengue.

    Captive-bred mosquitoes with a naturally occurring bacteria were released in the city of Townsville, where they mated with local mosquitoes.

    By spreading the bacteria Wolbachia, which hinders dengue transmission, the city has been dengue-free since 2014.

    Researchers from Monash University also believe their work could stop mosquito-borne diseases Zika and malaria.

    “Nothing we’ve got is slowing these diseases down – they are getting worse,” said Scott O’Neill, director of the World Mosquito Program, quoted by the Guardian.

    “I think we’ve got something here that’s going to have a significant impact and I think this study is the first indication that it’s looking very promising.”



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