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Time Media Covered Community Solutions to Zika - Andrea Berardi

3 February 2016

Aedes mosquito and Mesocyclops image

The Zika virus is a recent addition to the maladies already spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which include the infecting of millions of people across the world with yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya. Dengue alone is responsible for making 50 - 100 million people ill every year and control of the Aedes mosquito is clearly key to addressing these global pandemics.

One possible solution, heavily reported by the media, has been developed by Oxitec, a biotech company emerging from the University of Oxford. Their research has enabled them to genetically modify the male Aedes aegypti mosquito so that it produces sterile offspring. This means that when the 'GM' mosquito is released in significant numbers and mates with 'wild' females, there is a temporary crash in the Aedes mosquito's population. Unfortunately, however, the Aedes is phenomenally good at spreading back into areas from which it has been removed, so to control the population successfully, the release would need to be a regular intervention.

An alternative is offered by a community-owned solution that has been highly successful in communities in Vietnam. This approach promotes the spread of a natural predator of the Aedes larvae, Mesocyclops, a crustacean that forms part of the shrimp family and has a propensity to devour Aedes larvae. The Aedes female mosquito lays her eggs within any container filled with water and trials have shown that Mesocyclops can easily be spread from container to container through the use of sponges. In some cases involving community members in spreading and sustaining a healthy population of Mesocyclops has resulted in the almost total elimination of the Aedes mosquito, with no cases of dengue registered after only two years of community involvement.

As every community has its own native Mesocyclops species – Tahiti has Mesocyclops aspericornis, Vietnam has Mesocyclops guangxiensis, and the Americas have Mesocyclops longisetus – this approach has great potential for inspiring other Aedes hotspots throughout the world. In community trials, all of the species have been shown to be equally effective in eradicating the Aedes mosquito almost completely.

Decision-makers now have a clear choice when combating the emerging Zika virus pandemic and other diseases associated with the Aedes mosquito. They can support an expensive, foreign-controlled approach that involves repeated release into the environment of a genetically modified organism, or they can support communities to provide and control a solution themselves, one that relies on naturally occurring local predators and doesn’t need significant financial resources to sustain in the long term.

Andrea Berardi is a lecturer in Environmental Systems in the OU’s Department of Engineering and Innovation. You can follow Andrea's research and campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. This post is adapted from one originally published on the Cobra Collective blog and we are grateful for their permission to reproduce it. Read original article.

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