(CNSNews.com) – Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, spoke Wednesday of the possibility of eliminating the Zika-carrying Aedes Aegypti mosquito through genetic modifications.
“You will never completely, nor should you, eliminate the mosquito, but there’s a certain subset,” he argued. “The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is a bad actor, so if we were able to suppress, if not eliminate, Aedes Aegypti, I don’t think there’s going to be an environmental impact that’s profound at all.”
Fauci joined Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wednesday to speak with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on the threat of the Zika virus and ways to combat it.
“Why doesn’t our species eliminate that species, Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes?” Goldberg asked. “I want to just hear you out on the efficacy of that idea, of genetically engineering them out of existence, and what are the environmental and ethical consequences of doing that?”
“The Aedes Aegypti mosquito, people call it the cockroach of mosquitoes,” Schuchat replied. “It’s really hard to get rid of.”
Schuchat noted the recent success in Miami’s Wynwood area, where the CDC lifted a travel warning for pregnant woman, saying it was no longer an active transmission zone.
“Aggressive integrated mosquito control was able - we believe - to stop, to really bring down the numbers in the Wynwood area and to stop local transmission,” she said. “This was with a combination of factors, but we think this one-two punch of area spraying with Naled insecticide to kill the adult mosquitoes and with BTI to kill the baby mosquitoes or the mosquito youth, that one-two punch really helped in an unprecedented way.”
“Whenever people talk about genetically modified anything, there’s always a segment of the population that pushes back understandably,” Fauci said of the possibility of genetically engineering the Zika-carrying mosquitoes out of existence. “You don’t want to perturb the environment in an irreversible way that might have unintended consequences.
“If you’re going to do that, you’ve got to do a test and an environmental impact to show that you’re not going to have deleterious consequences, and the FDA has already given permission for in a controlled way to take a look at whether or not that would be effective and what the impact would be, so I think there is a future to genetically modifying,” he concluded.
Fauci added that he personally thinks “we should try whatever we have at our armament tools to suppress mosquitoes that are the cause of disease such as Zika and other diseases. You will never completely, nor should you, eliminate the mosquito, but there’s a certain subset, as Ann said, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito is a bad actor, so if we were able to suppress - if not eliminate - Aedes Aegypti, I don’t think there’s going to be an environmental impact that’s profound at all.”
“I think there’s so many different mosquitoes that could take their place that you won’t have to worry about that,” he explained, “but that particular mosquito is terrible. It bites indoors. It bites outdoors, and the other thing about it is that unlike other mosquitoes, it just loves humans. It doesn’t like any, it doesn’t get distracted. It’s not a promiscuous mosquito. It only bites humans, and that’s a bad thing.”
Schuchat agreed that “we really need research and careful studies on all of these promising approaches to mosquito control, and we need better repellants and better pesticides.”
“I think the idea that we’ve neglected this area, there’s lots of room for evaluation and exploring, and we really want to see the data, so I think there are promising approaches,” she concluded.