By Julie Drake
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | Are GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) as evil as they are made out to be? Many people fear tinkering with genetics is a slippery slope toward unnatural beings and catastrophic unintended consequences. Others are excited about the possibility.
Ever heard of Zika virus? Yes, that really bad one you get from infected mosquitoes that cause microcephaly in newborn babies and subsequent intellectual impairment, developmental delays, deformity and years of special education, doctor visits and heartache for parents. Zika is here in the United States with nearly all cases from travelers returning from affected areas. The need to be prepared is apparent.
With any outbreak there are several options for control, including vaccinations and exposure preventions. The other is to aggressively attack the problem virus or bacteria. With Zika, prevention is extremely hard because an infected person is generally asymptomatic and transmission can happen in many ways beyond the mosquito bite. However, attacking the problem has a much easier scientific solution. Releasing modified male mosquitoes that then mate with females (the ones that bite and spread the virus) giving hatch to non-viable eggs stops reproduction of the mosquito. No mosquitos, no bites, no infection. Early studies on this technique show more than a 90 percent reduction on Dengue Fever, which is also carried by the urban mosquito Aedes aegypti. It works.
The possibility of near complete eradication of Zika is within our reach, environmentally safe and highly effective. However, these male mosquitoes are considered GMO’s and thus subject to endless red tape and regulations in the US. A scientifically undereducated population created yet another hurdle with perpetuation of public outrage and paranoia in Florida recently when field testing was attempted.
Did this pique your interest? Take a listen to the May 2017 TED talk by scientist Nina Fedoroff. Then learn more in the April 6, 2016, editorial she and former Secretary of Agriculture John Block wrote in the New York Times.
Be careful of global statements, totally for or totally against GMO’s. You will undoubtedly find an exception and may need to re-evaluate your opinions on a case by case basis. As for me, I sure hope the governmental bureaucracy, and public opinion courts will get behind this GMO and put Zika fever on the same list as smallpox and polio. Our nations pregnant mothers and children can’t wait.
Julie Drake is the director of public health for Rio Blanco County.