Fall 2016 Articles, Misc

Zika, Mosquitoes, and Genetic Engineering

mosquitoZika has made headlines around the world following an outbreak of the disease in early 2016, when it was determined to be a cause of severe birth defects like microcephaly in the children of pregnant women, but mosquito-borne illness is a phrase more traditionally associated with dengue fever, which has been a concern for the Florida Keys for many years, and has been managed by keeping the mosquito population down by spraying the insecticide Naled, or Dibrom, heavily.

However, relatively new approaches from the company Oxitec utilize genetic engineering to produce mosquitos that rely on tetracycline to stay alive, and then release only male mosquitos (only the females of the Aedes aegypti species, which is responsible for the transmission of most diseases, bite and thus only the females can transmit the diseases) into the wild to breed, and effectively attempt to kill off an entire generation of mosquitos. Back in 2013, Pack Poll advisor and NC State Political Science professor, Dr. Michael Cobb conducted surveys in the Keys asking about the usage of such mosquitos, which showed 61% of those surveyed were in favor of the trial. However, due to political entangling, it was not until the 2016 Election that Florida Keys residents voted on allowing the Oxitec trial to move forward, which will see use in only parts of the Keys that approved it, currently.

To follow up and see what our fellow students at NC State felt about the topic, we sent out a survey talking about a couple emerging technologies, and among them we asked about the genetically engineered mosquitos:
A local government in Florida is considering releasing genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes to control the species of mosquitoes that spreads diseases such as Zika and dengue fever. Do you support the use of GE technology to control mosquitoes where they spread these diseases, or do you oppose using GE technology this way?”

Students responded with relatively quiet opposition, only 15.1% were actually opposed to the usage of GE mosquitos to combat Zika and dengue fever, although 19.8% had no opinion on the matter.

But, when broken out by gender, there is marginally less support for the usage of genetically engineered mosquitoes, with an increase in both explicit opposition as well as a lack of opinion. Overall, the male and female approval rating had a 6.2% split, with 4.5% opting for “no opinion” and 1.7% opting for “oppose” as compared to the males surveyed.

Overall, though, NC State students are more favorable of the usage of GE mosquitoes than the public at large, though only by slim margins.

We’ll be bringing you more information on our emerging technologies survey in the coming weeks, which include topics like nuclear energy, stem cell research, human biotechnology, and risk adversity in science.

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