Field cage studies and progressive evaluation of genetically-engineered mosquitoes.
Facchinelli L., Valerio L., Ramsey JM., Gould F., Walsh RK., Bond G., Robert MA., Lloyd AL., James AA., Alphey L., Scott TW.
BACKGROUND: A genetically-engineered strain of the dengue mosquito vector Aedes aegypti, designated OX3604C, was evaluated in large outdoor cage trials for its potential to improve dengue prevention efforts by inducing population suppression. OX3604C is engineered with a repressible genetic construct that causes a female-specific flightless phenotype. Wild-type females that mate with homozygous OX3604C males will not produce reproductive female offspring. Weekly introductions of OX3604C males eliminated all three targeted Ae. aegypti populations after 10-20 weeks in a previous laboratory cage experiment. As part of the phased, progressive evaluation of this technology, we carried out an assessment in large outdoor field enclosures in dengue endemic southern Mexico. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: OX3604C males were introduced weekly into field cages containing stable target populations, initially at 10:1 ratios. Statistically significant target population decreases were detected in 4 of 5 treatment cages after 17 weeks, but none of the treatment populations were eliminated. Mating competitiveness experiments, carried out to explore the discrepancy between lab and field cage results revealed a maximum mating disadvantage of up 59.1% for OX3604C males, which accounted for a significant part of the 97% fitness cost predicted by a mathematical model to be necessary to produce the field cage results. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results indicate that OX3604C may not be effective in large-scale releases. A strain with the same transgene that is not encumbered by a large mating disadvantage, however, could have improved prospects for dengue prevention. Insights from large outdoor cage experiments may provide an important part of the progressive, stepwise evaluation of genetically-engineered mosquitoes.