As the Zika virus spreads across the Americas, this strange rumor started on Reddit: The Zika virus was caused by genetically modified mosquitos. Although the conspiracy theory gained traction on reddit and other websites, many scientists have stepped in to debunk the theory.
Last week, a post appeared on Reddit’s conspiracy forum that linked the Zika virus with GM-mosquitos that were engineered to decrease the mosquito population. The OX513A strain of male mosquitos spawn larva that usually die before reaching maturity.
The post theorized that the 3-4% of GM mosquitos that reproduced despite the odds became carriers of the Zika virus, which results in brain damage and birth defects in babies. It did not take a lot of evidence for many redditors to declare that the GM-mosquitos, engineered by a company called Oxitech, were responsible for the virus’s spread.
However, according to many scientists, there is very little truth in the Zika conspiracy. Speaking to Business Insider, Alex Perkins, a Notre Dame biological sciences professor, said that the rumors were completely unfounded, and the GM-mosquitos would help fight the spread of Zika.
— C. S. Prakash (@AgBioWorld) February 1, 2016
“It could very well be the case that genetically modified mosquitos could end up being one of the most important tools that we have to combat Zika,” said Perkins. “If anything, we should potentially be looking into using these more.”
Ozitech, the company that engineered the GM-mosquitos, stood by their attempts to control the population, saying that the theory was “simply untrue.”
“All vector control solutions — insecticides, traps, and ‘sterile’ mosquitoes get deployed in areas with a high incidence of disease to help stop the spread of the disease at its source,” said Hadyn Parry, Ozitech CEO. “The fewer the mosquitoes, the lower the risk of disease. Our approach has proven to be more effective than the alternatives with a lower environmental impact.”
Zika is not a new virus that spread because of the GM-mosquitos; It was first discovered in 1947. Zika is currently affecting countries in South and Central America, and although experts predict the disease might surface in North America, it’s impact would be relatively minor.
Health officials are fighting to contain the disease and stop it from spreading. However, most agree that the disease is not linked to GM-mosquitos in anyway.
“There’s no evidence that genetically modified mosquitos have a role, but we wouldn’t need the [insects] to have an outbreak,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, the Chief of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases division at the University of Utah.