In a recent article, published by Globalpost, John Otis writes on how the small town of Jacobina, Brazil used agricultural biotechnology to help control the occurrence of Dengue Fever. By releasing swarms of mosquitoes engineered to wipe out their own species, Jacobina farmers will be better able to carry out their daily duties with a reduced risk of acquiring the disease.
“We need to provide alternatives because the system we have now in Brazil doesn’t work,” said Aldo Malavasi, president of Moscamed, a Brazilian company that’s raising and testing the GM mosquitoes in Jacobina, located in eastern Bahia state. “We have thousands and thousands of cases of dengue and that costs a lot for the country. People are unable to work.”
The Brazil Ministry of Health has stated that the country has 321 cities at risk with 725 in other alert conditions for the Dengue Fever epidemic and confirmed that in 2013, there were about 1.5 million reported probable cases of dengue in the country. As there is no effective vaccine, the simplest action to prevent contamination is to control the mosquito population.
The newly term “Franken-skeeters” are essentially Aedes aegypti mosquitoes genetically modified (GM) with a lethal gene designed to devastate the Aedies aegypti population carrying the dengue virus.
On April 10, 2014, the National Technical Commission for Biosecurity (CTNBio) announced that it had approved the commercial release of the genetically modified (GM) mosquito, OX513A, developed by Oxitec. The CTNBio is the collegiate body responsible for approval and regulation of transgenic organisms in Brazil and in the latest of a long series of biotechnology approvals by agency, it has officially added the first GM insect to be considered safe for commercial use in Brazil.
The Oxitec mosquito, which can be used to control the dengue mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is a strain of the wild species that contains two additional genes. The Oxitec males (which cannot bite) are released to seek out and mate with the wild females. Their offspring inherit the additional genes and die before becoming functional adults. They also inherit a marker that is visible under a special light, making monitoring in the field simple and helping ensure that dengue mosquito control programmes succeed.
In several trials, successive releases of the Oxitec males have been shown to reduce substantially the wild population of dengue mosquitoes in the treated area. With the dengue mosquito often shown to be difficult to control this has proven to be an amazing alternative with lifesaving benefits.
“It is like a live insecticide,” Malavasi says. Thus far, Moscamed is reporting a 90 percent drop in wild Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Jacobina. “Other countries are taking note.”