Posted on: December 8, 2017 at 5:18 pm
Last updated: December 8, 2017 at 6:20 pm

Mosquitoes suck – and not just literally. We trust that you probably agree with us on that one. Their bites are itchy, annoying, and some mosquitoes can even transmit parasites and viruses like malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and zika. In fact, within the last couple years, the number of zika virus cases in the United States has risen. What was once unheard of before 1947 has become what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls a global health emergency.[1,2] Now, in an effort to stop Zika virus from spreading, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved genetically modified mosquitoes that may be able to eradicate Zika-carrying ones.

However, much of the general public do not share the same excitement that researchers and politicians have about these new mosquitoes. People are concerned that, although the FDA has deemed these genetically modified insects safe, there’s still a legitimate cause for concern. Global citizens aren’t sitting back either. Mila de Mier, a mother of three has even launched an online petition opposing one of the mosquito trials and it has garnered 160,000 signatures.[17]

So, let’s take a look.

What Exactly Is the Zika Virus?

Researchers first identified the mosquito-borne zika virus disease in humans in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania. Since then, deadly mosquito outbreaks have occurred (and continue to occur) in several countries around the world.[3]

There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes, at least 176 of which you can find in the United States. While this may not seem like a significant number to worry about, it is when one of them carries the zika virus everyone is worried about – namely, the female Aedes aegypti mosquito.[4]

The Aedes aegypti mosquito hides under beds and cracks in your home, which gives her ample time to attack. Interestingly, these mosquitoes do not need your blood for food but rather, for its protein and iron in order to make their eggs.

What makes the Aedes aegypti mosquito so effective at transmitting the Zika virus is that, like other species, she will feed until her abdomen is full. Sometimes, they can bite up to five different people in one feeding. In a short CNN video about the Zika’s blood-sucking predatory, the narrator clarifies:

“You might think she’s immediately contagious, like a syringe that sucks up infected blood from one place and injects it into another. But that’s not so. Depending on the temperature, it actually takes between 5 and 14 days for a virus to replicate in her gut and make its way to her salivary glands. Then she can spit it out when she bites you, along with an anti-clotting factor that makes you itch.”[5]

One of the main reasons why zika virus is now under the microscope is because research suggests it can damage babies in the womb. More specifically, scientists have linked zika virus to the spike in microcephaly, wherein thousands of babies have been born with smaller heads in South America.[6]


Zika Virus Disease Case Counts in the United States

The lists below outline an approximate count of all Zika virus cases that have been reported between January 1, 2015 and December 6, 2017.[7]

U.S. States

  • 5,601 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases reported
    • 5,324 cases in travelers returning from affected areas
    • 226 cases acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission
    • 51 cases acquired through other routes, including sexual transmission, laboratory transmission, and person-to-person through an unknown route

U.S. Territories

  • 37,087 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases reported
    • 147 cases in travelers returning from affected areas
    • 36,940 cases acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission
    • 0 cases acquired through other routes

But Can Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Actually Stop Zika Virus?

In recent years, a British biotechnology company by the name of Oxitec worked to develop a genetically modified mosquito. At first, this sounds terrifying, but Oxitec has attempted to meet the public’s fear with facts. Here’s what you need to know about their genetically modified mosquito, OX513A:[8]

  • It’s a male Aedes aegypti (so it cannot bite)
  • He’s genetically engineered to pass along a lethal gene to wild females that causes the females’ offspring to die
    • To do this, the gene creates a protein that interferes with the females’ cell activity and kills the offspring before they reach adulthood

In theory, this method sounds promising. But is it really all that safe? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spent months reviewing its environmental impact study and the public comments surrounding it. After much deliberation, the FDA gave Oxitec’s OX513A its stamp of approval.[9]

“We’re really pleased to announce the FDA finished their review and has found no significant impact of the release of our mosquito on human health or the environment,” said Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry.

Oxitec’s Genetically Modified Aedes Aegypti Mosquito: Does It Work?

Researchers at Oxitec are expecting the same results, if not better, than the ones they achieved in field trials in the Cayman Islands, Panama, and Brazil. Parry is confident their genetically modified mosquito will be just effective in the U.S.

“Our studies show we can reduce the Aedes aegypti population by 90% over six months and keep it there by releasing small numbers of males after that. And that is very cost-effective compared to pesticides.”[10]

Although North American trials have yet to start due to community backlash, some states are also looking into Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to combat the rise of Zika virus. There are two things you should know about Wolbachia bacteria: 1) they do not infect humans and 2) they prevent the eggs of infected female mosquitoes from hatching.[11]

In April 2017, 20,000 male Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released on Stock Island in Florida for a 12-week field trial. The executive director for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, Andrea Leal, is hopeful in the two options avilable to fight the mosquito crisis.

“A successful trial with the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes could mean the availability of a new tool in the fight against the Aedes aegypti mosquito for not only our District, but for Mosquito Control Districts around the country.”[12]

When researchers released the same Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes into the wild in Cairns, Australia, they quickly replaced the disease-carrying mosquitoes with disease-free ones that replicated quickly.

EPA Approves Wolbachia-Infected Mosquitoes in 20 States and the District of Columbia

As of November 3, 2017, a recent Nature article confirmed that “the [EPA] told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate that it could release [Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes] into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito,” a mosquito that’s been recognized to carry and potentially transmit Zika virus. This approval would allow them to sell their genetically modified mosquitoes in 20 states and Washington, D.C.[13-16]

The Risks of Releasing Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

In addition to having to deal with the annoyance of more mosquitoes, some research suggests the powers that be should be more concerned. At first, it doesn’t seem like people would be at risk of infectious diseases since male mosquitoes do not bite. But problems can arise when you consider the infected female mosquitoes…

According to Parry, the worst-case scenario is “that it doesn’t work.”[18]

In response to this, University of Florida associate professor Chelsea Smartt argued that the real “problem with this idea is not that there is a great risk of humans getting transgenic DNA, although some unforeseen risk may be present, but whether the measure to control mosquitoes actually works in the wild in a sustainable way.”[19]

However, a man by the name of Jeffrey Smith, Found of the Institute for Responsible Technology does see a legitimate health risk. In his article for HuffPost, Smith wrote:[20]

“The company had widely publicized that they were only releasing males, which don’t bite. But it turns out that their method of sorting males from females is flawed, and thousands of biting female mosquitoes are released. In addition, their method to create non-viable offspring is also flawed. Between 3%-15% of the offspring survive and prosper. This can easily translate into millions of biting females, born from a genetically engineered family tree.”[21,22]


Although more research is required, the evidence against genetically modified mosquitoes should legitimize the public’s concern for their health.

[1] The history of Zika virus. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[2] LaMotte, S. (2016, August 05). Zika-fighting GMO mosquito wins FDA approval. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[3] Same as 1

[4] Mosquito Species. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[5] CNN. (2017, April 20). Zika’s blood-sucking predator. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[6] Bates, C. (2016, January 28). Would it be wrong to eradicate mosquitoes? Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[7] Zika Virus: Case Counts. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[8] LaMotte, S. (2016, August 05). Zika-fighting GMO mosquito wins FDA approval. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[9] Medicine, C. F. (n.d.). Genetically Engineered Animals – Oxitec Mosquito. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[10] Same as 8


[11] Zika virus: WHO backs GM mosquito trials. (2016, February 16). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[12] Goldschmidt, S. B. (2017, April 20). Florida releases experimental mosquitoes. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[13] US government approves ‘killer’ mosquitoes to fight disease. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[14] EPA Registers the Wolbachia ZAP Strain in Live Male Asian Tiger Mosquitoes. (2017, November 07). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

[15] Traces of Zika Found in Asian Tiger Mosquito in Brazil. (2017, April 14). Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

[16] Fox, M. (2017, April 14). Zika Found in Common Backyard Asian Tiger Mosquito. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

[17] Miller, A., &, S. T. (2016, August 08). Jury out on how GMO mosquitoes aimed at stopping Zika may hurt humans. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

[18] Ramsey, L. (2016, August 20). Oxitec CEO: This is the worst-case scenario for unleashing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

[19] The New York Times Company. (n.d.). Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

[20] Smith, J. (2017, July 28). Research Exposes New Health Risks of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes and Salmon. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

[21] Urquhart, C. (2012, July 14). Can GM mosquitoes rid the world of a major killer? Retrieved December 08, 2017, from

[22] D. (n.d.). Eliminating tetracycline contamination. [PDF].

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