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Mosquito warriors could battle Zika

Mosquito from Tulane University (FOX 8 Photo) Mosquito from Tulane University (FOX 8 Photo)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Mosquitoes could be the best weapon in the fight against Zika as scientists begin to study the virus locally. Tulane University will look into how the virus could be spread by local mosquitoes and the long-term effects of the virus on the population.

But while those studies take place, some officials in Brazil are already using a genetically altered mosquito that is virtually sterile as a tool to take down the bugs that are spreading the virus.

“They will actually mate with wild females and the offspring will die young. So they won't live long enough to transmit the virus. That technology has been approved for use in Brazil where Zika is a large problem now,” said Dr. Dawn Wesson, an associate professor of Tropical Medicine at Tulane.

The mutant mosquito solution is costly and labor-intensive to implement, but it could be an effective way to quell the spread of Zika.

“In theory, that should work very well. The modeling suggests it should work very well. In reality, it may not be as clean-cut as that. When Mother Nature comes into the picture, often things act differently than we expect them to,” Wesson said.

There’s another type of mosquito that might be able to pick up the slack if the sterilized soldier bugs don’t cut it, a cannibal mosquito known for eating its own kind.

“They’re large mosquitoes. The adults don't feed on people at all. The larvae, however, will feed on other mosquito larvae and basically just make their way through the other larvae, chomping them up into pieces,” Wesson said.

Cannibal mosquitoes are also expensive and labor-intensive, but it could be a reality if the Zika scare continues.

“I think it's possible this summer New Orleans Mosquito Control may be seeing if they can bring back that technology and utilize it. Anything we can do to be more environmentally friendly and not use pesticides, that's the route we'd like to take if we can,” Wesson said.

Tulane is also studying a so-called “True Blood” synthetic blood meal for mosquitoes that could help with feeding during long-term studies.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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