The Genetically Modified Mosquito Bite

asian tiger mosquito

The Genetically Modified Mosquito Bite


The Las Vegas Valley is known for its warm climate most of the year and we can be prone to insects that can spread dengue and chikungunya. A few million mutant insects could slow the spread of dengue and chikungunya in the United States, but some people are wary of tampering with nature.


Thanks to warming climates, two debilitating tropical diseases have taken hold in America’s southern shore. The first is dengue, commonly called “break-bone fever,” which infects more than 50 million people a year with muscle aches. Its counterpart, chikungunya, causes joint pain and agonizing contortions. Both are transmitted by mosquitoes, which have been driven northward into the Florida Keys. As insecticides have proven useless, a promising new plan involving genetically-modified mosquitoes may stop the scourge, but only if it can get approval from the public and the Food and Drug Administration first.   


These tropical diseases are of interest to Las Vegas since we have such a high rate of tourism.


Oxitec has bred mutant mosquitoes that carry a genetic “kill switch.” When these insects mate with the native population, they drastically reduce the insect’s birthrate. The company inserted protein fragments from coral, cabbage, the herpes virus, and E.coli bacteria into the insects, which they call OX513A. The protein potpourri creates a lethal gene, which male mosquitoes pass down to their offspring. When a modified male mates with a regular female, this gene kills the fertilized eggs. Oxitec plans to have their insects overwhelm the mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and wipe out the population.


This work can be very important to hamper the spread of these diseases.


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