Recently, genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes were introduced in East Africa’s Djibouti to combat malaria.

About the GM Mosquito program:

  • The release of GM mosquitoes is a part of the “Djibouti Friendly Mosquito Programme,” initiated to halt the spread of the invasive Anopheles Stephensi mosquito. 
  • Oxitec, a biotechnology company developed this method to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes using other mosquitoes. 

What are GM Mosquitoes?

GM mosquitoes are mass-produced in a laboratory to carry two types of genes:

  • A self-limiting gene that prevents female mosquito offspring from surviving to adulthood.
  • A fluorescent marker gene that glows under a special red light. This allows researchers to identify GM mosquitoes in the wild.

About Anopheles Stephensi mosquito:

  • Origin: It is an invasive mosquito originally from South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, first appearing in Africa in 2012. 
  • Urban Threat: Unlike most malaria-carrying mosquitoes in Africa, which prefer rural areas, Anopheles Stephensi thrives in urban environments. 
  • Djibouti Case Study: Significant rise in malaria cases from 27 in 2012 to over 73,000 by 2020.
  • Spread Across Africa: Its spread later continued to other African countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.

Method adopted for prevention:

  • In this method Oxitec  altered male mosquitoes to carry a gene that stops their female offspring from growing into adults. 
  • Since female mosquitoes spread malaria, reducing their numbers can lower disease transmission also. 
  • This method is safe and specifically targets the mosquitoes causing the problem.

Other similar initiatives:

  • Burkina Faso  conducted the first-ever release of . 
  • Uganda is also partnering with Oxitec for a similar initiative to combat malaria.

Concerns related to GM mosquitos:

  • People are worried that genetically modified mosquitoes might harm humans and other species and could lead to unexpected problems like spreading dangerous viruses. 
  • According to some experts, just reducing the number of virus-carrying mosquitoes isn’t sufficient to prevent outbreaks.

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