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LSUS Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Agrees to Engineering the Mosquito, “The correct thing to do”

October 05, 2016

Dr. Beverly Burden, associate professor of biological sciences at LSU Shreveport, was one of several to talk about the impacts of engineering the mosquito during a roundtable discussion at Sci-Port on Sept. 17.

In addition to teaching at LSUS and speaking at public events, Dr. Burden speaks as a guest on the radio show "What's Bugging You?" on the Red River Radio program.

"My thoughts about engineering the mosquito is that it is the correct thing to do," she said. "When we spray insecticide it is relatively safe for humans and pets but it kills all species of mosquitos and doesn't just target. The methods that we have of genetically engineering the mosquito today will only target the mosquitos that are transmitting the diseases. On that Saturday night we focused
on the Zika disease because it applies to any virus, any bacteria, and any protozoa. The scientists can go into the mosquito and insert genes that they can actually control and turn them on or off whenever they want to by way of chemicals that are exposed to the mosquito."

The genetic engineering works by putting a gene into the DNA of the mosquito that will make the males sterile, Dr. Burden said. This procedure makes the male and female offspring of that male sterile. So that in the end, the female's mate and offspring will die, which will control the populations of the diseasetransmitting mosquitos.

"Here in the ArkLaTex we have 160 different species of mosquitos," Dr. Burden said. "So if we take out the four or five species that transmit diseases like Zika, malaria, yellow fever, and Chikungunya, then they'll be plenty of insects left for the ecosystem to survive and be very healthy. There will still be larvae for the fish to eat. They'll still be adults for the dragonflies and the birds to eat. So it will save a lot of lives."

She said the genetic engineering of the mosquito costs about three million dollars to develop. In May, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $1.7 million in grants to researchers and scientists through the NSF's Division of Environmental Biology's Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) program. The purpose is to fund the development and testing of predictive models and the discovery of the fundamentals controlling the transmission of diseases like Zika. The NSF provides funds to colleges, universities, school systems, and science organizations in the U.S. through grants and other programs to educate and conduct research on important and relevant scientific topics.

Researchers are conducting laboratory and field tests that show the genetic engineering is proving successful in decimating the Zika-transmitting mosquitos. However, approval for the releasing of the genetically-engineered insects into the environment has slowed as concerned individuals question the safety of the genetic modifications.

Further research, testing, and knowledge will be key to understanding and, perhaps, implementing the genetically-engineered mosquitos.

Louisiana State University Shreveport is a public university proudly serving the Shreveport-Bossier educational community with more than 20 undergraduate degree programs, a dozen master's degree programs (including the new online MBA), and a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Leadership Studies, as well as over 70 student organizations. LSUS is a member of the LSU System, and provides a number of centers and institutes that serve as valuable economic development and educational resources to the community, as well as to our students. To find out more about LSUS, call 318-797-5000, or visit www.lsus.edu.

 
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