Animals

An Army of Modified Mosquitoes Is Set to Fight Zika

Parts of South America will soon be home to millions of insects carrying a special Zika-stifling bug of their own.

Parts of Brazil and Colombia will soon become home base for a veritable army of millions of mosquitoes that have been modified to fight the Zika virus as well as other diseases such as dengue fever and cikungunya.

According to BBC News, the insects will be purposely infected, via injection, with Wolbachia, a bacteria common in insects that hampers the mosquitoes' ability to transmit Zika to humans.

The mosquito most closely associated with Zika, Aedes aegypti, does not usually become infected with Wolbachia. However, once modified to carry it, scientists say, the bacteria will be passed on to uninfected mosquitoes at breeding time.

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Researchers from the non-profit Eliminate Dengue are working on the release, which should begin in early 2017. In May, the group reported success in small trials of the strategy, finding that the injected Wolbachia bacteria indeed reduced the presence of Zika in mosquitoes. (Similar results were found for chikungunya and dengue fever.)

Humans can get the Zika virus from mosquito bites; via fetal transfer to newborns; from sex; and possibly from blood transfusions (according to the CDC, that infection method is "very likely but not confirmed"). When pregnant women who are infected pass the virus to their babies, the newborns could emerge with a number of severe birth defects, among them a condition called microcephaly, in which an unborn baby's brain shrinks.

To date, there is no vaccine for Zika, and, as the infections keep coming, science continues to race against time for a solution. Other schemes, such as genetically modifying the mosquitoes to kill their offspring, are also in development.

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