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Bill Gates Supports Genetically Modified Mosquitoes For Zika Eradication

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Thursday was the first day of the American Society for Microbiology Microbe Conference (#ASMMicrobe2016). The conference is being held in Boston, MA, and in addition to several companies presenting clinical data, Bill Gates delivered the keynote address at approximately 5pm eastern time.

Bill delivered an update on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's current progress and missions around the world. One part of the Q&A session that we found very interesting was a question asking Bill his opinion on the importance of new technologies in the eradication of diseases like Malaria and Zika.

Bill says the first thing we need for the eradication of diseases like Malaria are new generation vaccines with longer durations of protection. The second most important tool, he says, is the CRISPR gene editing technique used to genetically modify mosquitos. The genetically modified mosquitos are released into the wild and mate with infected mosquitos. The mosquito offspring inherit a self-limiting gene that causes them to die before reaching adulthood. The result is an eventual decline in the wild mosquito population.

We found Bill's comments on the genetically modified mosquito solution interesting mainly because there's been some backlash to the new technology. There's currently a 168,000 signature petition on attempting to ban genetically modified mosquitos from the Florida Keys. What happens if the mosquitos kill off the A.Aegypti mosquitos, leaving a fillable void for the Asian Tiger mosquito that carries Dengue?

Bill isn't concerned. He acknowledged that backlash towards new technology is understandable and we can't just jump into communities and push solutions on them. First we need to educate them about the risk and rewards of each possible solution. He seemed to hint that if and when Zika hits areas such as Florida head-on, the public will be more open to new technologies.

There are currently two types of modified mosquitos that are being used to kill off infectious mosquito populations. The first type comes from a company named Oxitec. Oxitec's genetically modified mosquitos carry a self-limiting gene that gets passed onto offspring and causes them to die before adulthood. The second company, MosquitoMate, is owned by the University of Kentucky. Their mosquitos are infected with Wolbachia, a bacteria that naturally exists in Asian Tiger mosquitos. When they infect other female mosquito types with Wolbachia, they become completely sterile, forcing the general population into decline.

Both solutions seem to be quite viable, and have already been tested in places like Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines with great success. It's good to know that Bill is a supporter of these new technologies, because they may just come into use when we need them most here in the USA. Even though the #ASMMicrobe2016 conference has just begun, it's already off to a great start. We hope to discover more promising news in the days to come.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.