Genetically engineered mosquitoes released in bid to fight disease

Mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to produce non-viable offspring were released today in Panama in an attempt to tackle the country’s growing dengue fever problem.

Dengue fever is a severe flu-like disease that can sometimes be fatal. It is spread by Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito that is found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world.

The disease is only spread by female mosquitoes, so scientists at Oxitec genetically engineered mosquitoes to carry a lethal gene that would kill the offspring of any female that they mate with.

By releasing these genetically engineered mosquitoes into Panama, it is hoped that the disease-carrying insects will be wiped out, resulting in fewer cases of dengue fever.

oxitec-mosquito

Serious concerns have been raised over the disease as it is increasing rapidly on a global scale, helped in part climate change.  The World Health Organisation estimates there to be 50-100 million cases each year.

Panama in particular has seen a marked increase in incidences of the disease. In 2012 there were 1,000 reported cases, but by 2013 this had risen to 3,000.

“Dengue fever is a major concern in Panama,” explained Panamanian health organisation the Gorgas Institute director Dr Nestor Sosa.

“The methods we have for controlling the dengue mosquito are limited and are increasingly of limited effectiveness: dengue cases in this country tripled between 2012 and 2013.”

There are also fears that climate change could result in the disease could spread to areas previously unaffected as climate change increases rainfall and temperatures.

In April UK-based biologist Dr Steve Lindsay warned that diseases spread by insects were on the rise in Mediterranean Europe, and could spread further north.

Genetic engineering is increasingly being seen as an environmentally friendly way to tackle insects that are a threat to human life and health.

Oxitec, the company behind the engineered mosquitoes, is a specialist in this field, having previously provided similar insects to tackle the issue in Brazil and the Cayman Islands. The company is also investigating the technology to protect crops from insect pests.

The technology is, however, still relatively new and many health institutes will be watching carefully to see if it can be deployed on a large scale.

“Oxitec’s technology has shown great promise in Brazil and the Cayman Islands; it’s efficient, effective, and can reduce reliance on pesticides,” added Sosa.

“Assuming we can show it to be equally effective here, we could be looking at an important new addition to our existing approaches for controlling the dengue mosquito – and that would be very good news for the people of Panama”.


Featured image courtesy of M via Flickr/Creative Commons.

Inline image and video courtesy of Oxitec.


Abolish DVDs to help save the planet from CO2 emissions, scientists say

You don’t need an excuse to watch Netflix, but by doing so you are helping to protect the planet from global warming.

Researchers found that if everything watched on DVDs in 2011 in the US had been watched on streaming services it would have saved enough energy to power 200,000 households.

It also would have saved 2bn kg of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2).

Overall, the group from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and Northwestern University said that streaming requires less energy and emits less CO2 than some traditional methods of DVD renting, buying and viewing.

They put the energy saving down to the fact that laptops, smartphones and tablets are a lot more energy efficient that older, larger, DVD players.

During 2011, the year the researchers looked at for their study, an estimated 1.2bn DVDs were purchased and an estimated 17.2bn hours of DVDs were viewed in the US.

The group worked out that one hour of video streaming requires 7.9 megajoules (MJ) of energy and emits 0.4 kg of CO2, whereas 12 MJ is needed for traditional DVD viewing and as much as 0.71 kg of CO2 for DVD viewing.

Part of the reason DVD viewing produces more CO2 is due to the need for consumers to drive to pick up or buy the disc.

To arrive at their results, the researchers compared video streaming with four different types of DVD consumerism: DVDs that are rented from online mailers; DVDs that are rented from a store; DVDs that are purchased online and DVDs that are bought from a store.

They found that video streaming and the online rental of DVDs required similar amounts of energy; however, the renting and purchasing of DVDs from a store were much more energy intensive, due to the impact of driving.

The lead author of the research Arman Shehabi, said that getting rid of the DVD should be part of a wider debate about environment-damaging products.

He said: “It’s a modern-day equivalent of the debate about which is more environmentally sound—the disposable or the cloth diaper.

“Our study suggests that equipment designers and policy makers should focus on improving the efficiency of end-user devices and network transmission energy to curb the energy use from future increases in video streaming.

“Such efficiency improvements will be particularly important in the near future, when society is expected to consume far greater quantities of streaming video content compared to today.”


Featured image courtesy of Derek Law via Flickr/Creative Commons Licence