To say that Zika virus is on the rise is an understatement. Global leaders and scientific experts are exerting doubled efforts to address the disease, which has spread explosively.

Among the popular solutions experts have suggested to fight Zika is creating genetically engineered mosquitoes. The question now is how can these modified insects help the world fight Zika?

Genetically modified mosquitoes have gained lots of attention from U.S. regulators. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now in its last stages of reviewing Intrexon Corp.'s Oxitec application to perform a field testing in Key Haven, Florida.

Oxitec's technology involves genetically modifying males in a pool of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are the main carriers of Zika as well as other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.

Experts will alter the mosquitoes in such a way that their offspring will die young. Because female mosquitoes lay more than 500,000 eggs monthly, there will be enough supply for different regions.

The program will be able to help large populations as transport will not be a challenge, says Hadyn Parry, the chief executive officer of Oxitec.

"What we're offering is a tool that is going to be really powerful in reducing these mosquito populations and reducing the threat," says Parry. Hence, he says it must be accelerated.

Oxitec's application entails an environmental assessment that will be available for the public to comment on. The company says U.S. regulators will review the information on its application together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In April 2014, Brazil's biosecurity commission approved the mosquito of the UK-based firm. The company now has a facility in Campinas, which is near São Paulo, Brazil.

Just last week, Oxitec announced that it is building a larger factory in Piracicaba, which is also near São Paulo. At present, Oxitec is awaiting the final green light from Brazil's Ministry of Health so it can finally put the mosquitoes up for sale to local and private agencies.

"We are delighted Piracicaba is encouraged by our strong results and expanding the program," says Parry.

Despite these efforts, however, the use of genetically modified animals are still faced with controversies.

"Mosquitoes are food for lots of animals," says Jaydee Hanson from Washington-based environmental advocacy group Center for Food Safety. He adds that his group wants to see research that will tackle the outcome of having these mosquitoes eaten by birds, bats and amphibians.

Hanson says the company is introducing new genetic materials into the ecosystem that have not been part of it before. He also points out the presence of other mosquito species that can possibly carry the virus. Ultimately, the problem will not be solved, he says.

Zika virus has affected Latin America widely, with the World Health Organization describing it as "spreading explosively." While vaccines are currently in the works, experts say it may take years for it to finally finish.

Photo : U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr

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