Florida to release Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes to stop Zika Virus

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Oxitec (UK) is on track to be allowed to trial their self-limiting, genetically engineered mosquitoes in the US – and stop the spread of Dengue and Zika.

oxitec_gmo_mosquito_sterile_insect_technique_fda_fonsi_zikas_microencephaly_dengueAs a spin-off from Oxford University, Oxitec specialises in using genetic engineering to control insect pest populations with the ‘Sterile Insect Technique’.

This is an interesting alternative to pesticides in Agriculture, but it is also highly relevant in the control of infectious diseases. However, releasing GM mosquitoes is a very

idea, which is facing a lot of opposition and concerns over the impact it could potentially have on an ecosystem.

Aedes aegypti is a particularly problematic species of mosquito, as it spreads viruses like ChikungunyaDengue and more recently infamous Zika. The population of this mosquito is hard to control, even with heavy use of pesticides.

Oxitec wants to expand the import approvals of its Aedes aegypti OX513A product (a strain of male mosquitoes that don’t produce viable offspring) to the US and conduct a trial in the Florida Keys.

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The self-limiting gene strategy that Oxitec uses to develop a strain of Aedes aegypti that can control the mosquito’s population (Source: Oxitec)

This project is one step closer to reality, now that the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) has released a preliminary finding of no significant impact (FONSI). This is an indication that the FDA uses for veterinary drugs that are found to have no impact on health or the environment.

The review team was also composed of experts from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in addition to FDA-CVM. They focused on past field trials, which have been conducted in the Grand Caymon and Malaysia. There are currently ongoing trials in Brazil and Panama.

zika_oxitec_mosquito_fda_genetic_engineering_release_infectious_disease

Oxitec reports that the introduction of this engineered strain managed to reduce Aedes aegypti population in 90% in past efficacy trials, which is far superior to results with conventional methods (like pesticides).

The fast geographical spread of Zika virus and its possible connection to infant microcephaly highlighted the need for a strategy to deal with mosquito-transmitted diseases, which can become full-fledged pandemics. Oxitec’s strategy can run parallel to the cures for Zika currently being developed – even if GMO always spark controversy.

Having the US approve its strategy would really speed up Oxitec’s development. This Biotech could be key in the future of pest and disease control.


Oxitec’s CEO, Hayden Parry, explains how GM Mosquitoes could change everything…


Feature image credit: Mosquito Swarm by Jesse Krause and Shannan Sweet working at the Toolik Field Station in Alaska (Credit: Grind TV)
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  • Adam Neira

    What a deceptive photo accompanying this article ! As if a huge swarm of Oxitec GM Mosquitoes will come like the cavalry to the rescue.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    GM mosquitoes will not do the trick regarding Zika. Like a drop of water in a swimming pool. They will easily and quickly get overwhelmed. The “new” technologies/modalities of : Gene Drive; GM Mosquitoes; IAEA Zapping will not do the trick re. Zika.

    The “old fashioned” tried & true methods of mosquito control should be re-introduced in all countries in the Americas ASAP.

    1- Massive Clean Up Operations in all Urban Areas
    2- Reintroduction of DDT spraying
    3- Repair of drainage/water systems
    4-Installation of screens on windows and doors
    5- Use of Repellant
    6- Suitable clothing
    7- Public Education
    8- Other

    The mosquito-disease carrying situation in the Americas is too overwhelming now for the “new” modalities. No need to re-invent the wheel. All national and state govts. in the Americas need to go back to the old methods that worked.

    If you didn’t realise Zika is in the process of mutating. Just keeps evolving. Mutation event happened late 2014 NE Brazil. The number of base pairs of the genome has increased from the earlier Asian strain. The base pairs number in all the verified Zika samples to date vary from 10,272 to 10,807. Number of base pairs in the genome has grown. Tiny changes in the structure of a virus can change its behaviour dramatically. A large block of Semtex on its own is largely harmless. But add a tiny detonator to it and it becomes very dangerous indeed.

    P.S. Statements in recent weeks from various “authorities” and national “leaders” regarding the Zika outbreak remind me of the movie “Idiocracy”.