Genetically modified mosquitoes test a success, researchers says

A U.K.-based scientific team recently showed that genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective at tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases.

Male mosquitoes are modified in the technique so that their offspring die before reproducing, the BBC reports. Genetically modified males were found by researchers to successfully mate with wild females in a dengue-affected portion of the Cayman Islands.

"We were really surprised how well they did," Luke Alphey, a visiting professor at Oxford University, said, the BBC reports. "For this method, you just need to get a reasonable proportion of the females to mate with GM males - you'll never get the males as competitive as the wild ones, but they don't have to be, they just have to be reasonably good."

The researchers said that mating had not been proven in the wild previously and could lower the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes, the journal Nature Biotechnology reports.

When a wild female mates with a sterile male, it produces no viable offspring,w which lowers the number of mosquitoes capable of transmitting the disease. The screwworm fly was eradicated from the Caribbean island of Curacao in the 1950s using a similar method.

According to the WHO, there are as many as 50 million dengue cases each year and the incidence is rising. The WHO has said that some countries are reporting "explosive" outbreaks, according to the BBC.

Dengue fever is caused by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus when it bites. There is currently no dengue fever vaccine.