A scientific genetic experiment apparently backfired in real life just like the premise of many 1950’s science fiction movies, comics books, and Jurassic Park.
Mutant mosquitoes created by scientists to reduce wild mosquito populations instead successfully interbred with the wild mosquitoes to create an entirely new hybrid mosquito that is thriving in the wild, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature.
Oxitec’s self-limiting mosquitoes were genetically engineered so that their offspring die before reaching adulthood.
Approximately 450,000 mutant male mosquitoes were released each week for 27 months in Jacobina, Bahia, Brazil to mate with wild female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes so that their offspring die.
But genetic sampling from the wild population 6, 12, and 27–30 months after the releases commenced shows that the mutant mosquitoes are now successfully interbreeding with wild populations.
The interbreeding has created a “rare viable hybrid offspring between the release strain and the Jacobina population are sufficiently robust to be able to reproduce in nature,” the study found.
“The release strain was developed using a strain originally from Cuba, then outcrossed to a Mexican population. Thus, Jacobina Ae. aegypti are now a mix of three populations.”
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the species primarily responsible for the spread of the Zika virus, dengue fever, Chikungunya virus, West Nile virus, and Yellow Fever.
The study speculates that the new tri-hybrid mosquitoes may be more successful and harder to kill than the original wild population because hybrids tend to be hardier than their parents throughout nature.
Oxitec has challenged the studies’ findings and conclusions and notes that “natural genes carried by Oxitec mosquitoes do not confer increased capacity to transmit disease nor resistance to commonly used insecticides.”
The conclusions of the study are subject to criticisms that are being considered by editors of Nature.