GMO mosquitoes saving lives in Brazil

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When it comes to life or death, genetically modified organisms win out over leaving the environment untouched, and those with a progressive point of view about improving agriculture wish that it wouldn’t take such a drastic situation for GMOs to be accepted in everyday life.

The release of GMO sterile mosquitoes in Brazil is increasing rapidly as a way to combat the spread of dengue fever. A new production facility for GMO Oxitec sterile mosquitoes was announced as up and running last week with the initial volume of mosquitoes being reared as sufficient to protect the population of a city of 50,000 people.  

Those in charge of the project to reduce dengue fever in Brazil provided details on the fever. “The severe form of dengue fever today has become a leading cause of hospitalization and death among children in Asian and Latin American countries. Dengue fever is a virus spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is neither medication nor a vaccine to prevent dengue fever. Effective measures to control the dengue mosquito, Aedes aegypti, are urgently required as globally the disease is becoming geographically more wide-spread, more prevalent and more virulent. The incidence of dengue has increased 30 fold in the last 50 years and, according to World Health Organization, now 2.5 billion people are at risk.”

The evaluation of Oxitec mosquitoes in Brazil is called ‘Project AedesTransgenico’ (PAT) and is being carried out by Moscamed and the University of Sao Paulo in collaboration with Oxitec and is supported by the State of Bahia government.

Oxitec is developing and commercializing effective proprietary technology for the control of significant insect pests. The proprietary technology being used builds on inventions from the University of Oxford and employs genetics and molecular biology to enhance the existing radiation based Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). Moscamed is a leading exponent of SIT and the organization provides both monitoring services and carries out SIT programs for the control of fruit flies in Brazil.

What isn't clear is how much SIT can be used in producing GMO sterile insects for protecting the world's crops and what other GMO technology can be developed without ranting protests by anti-GMO groups. 

Margareth Capurro, Ph.D., University of Sao Paulo, who is leading the project evalutation of the GMO moquitoes provided a favorable report. “After a long period of contained evaluation work, we started a series of releases in Brazil in February 2011 in the outdoor environment. Then, from December 2011, we commenced a suppression trial and showed that in the area where we were releasing the sterile male mosquitoes we could control the mosquito that spreads dengue fever. This was done in a suburb of Juazerio, Bahia state where mosquitoes are at a very high level all year round. When we started the trial we were seeing Aedes aegypti in about half of the traps we set in and around people’s homes. Now we see hardly any. Comparing the area of release to the adjacent area where no releases were made, we have reduced the population of Aedes aegypti by 85 percent. We are very excited by the result."

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