On 18th June Moscamed held an event to mark the official launch of their project in Jacobina, a city of around 50,000 inhabitants in Bahia state, Brazil. They aim to release around 4 million Oxitec OX513A male mosquitoes per week for around 2 years with a view to controlling the population of wild Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue fever.
This is the most ambitious project so far using Oxitec’s technology in the field, and follows two highly successful projects in neighbourhoods of Juazeiro, Bahia, where Moscamed is based. These projects reduced the wild populations of mosquitoes by up to 96% and were well-received by the local residents.
An increase in scale for implementation in Jacobina has required not only expansion of manufacturing output, but also adaptations to several logistical aspects of the project. Firstly, the distance between Jacobina and the factory in Juazeiro led to the decision to transport male pupae, rather than adults, between these cities. This in turn required a location within Jacobina where the pupae could emerge as adults before release. Moscamed rented and adapted a warehouse to create a laboratory that could be used for mosquito emergence, as well as for monitoring and providing information to the community.
The increased area being treated also presents new logistical challenges. The community engagement activities, for example, are essential to inform the general public about the technology and the project, and could not focus on the door-to-door visits conducted in previous projects. As a result, Moscamed made greater use of several broader communication techniques, including information tents in the market place and advertisements in outdoor locations. Door-to-door visits have been focused on the neighbourhood where releases will first occur. In addition, the truck used for mosquito releases has a loud-speaker that plays a jingle explaining the project to the public.
Mosquito releases have also been coordinated with the local vector control team, who will continue their insecticide spraying campaign. Releasing Oxitec mosquitoes the day after spraying maximises the synergy of these two control tools.
The launch event started with a ceremonial opening of the new building in Jacobina and guests were given a tour of the mosquito emergence room and other facilities. The event then moved to a location that was within the first neighbourhood to be treated in the project. There were speeches from a number of stakeholders, including the Mayor of Jacobina, Rui Macedo, who described the project as “extremely important for the public health of Jacobina”.
The launch event is just the start of a long journey that we hope will make a big difference to the numbers of dengue mosquitoes in Jacobina. Oxitec is continuing to provide support to Moscamed as the project continues to scale up operations to full operating capacity.
Following a series of successful trials with the ‘genetically sterile’ mosquito strain, OX513A, Oxitec have submitted a technical dossier to Brazil’s National Technical Commission on Biosafety, CTNBio (Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança). This is another step towards commercial registration in Brazil of the product, which targets the dengue fever-transmitting mosquito, Aedes aegypti.
Oxitec’s vector control solution offers a species-specific means of reducing the target mosquito population. A series of trials, in partnership with Juazeiro-based Moscamed and Universidad de São Paolo, have demonstrated that regular releases of male mosquitoes can offer a pest control solution which works to reduce the population and sustain this suppression. Results in the initial trial site, the town of Itaberaba, resulted in a sustained 80% Ae. aegypti population suppression, similar control was achieved in an earlier trial in the Cayman Islands. Releases of the OX513A mosquito in the village of Mandacaru were even more successful, resulting in 96% suppression of the wild Ae. aegypti mosquito population.
All of these trials have been preceded by rigorous assessment by national regulatory authorities; in Brazil, the CTNBio. The objectives of CTNBio include upholding laws governing genetically modified (GM) organisms and standards relating to protection of human health and the environment. GM crops such as cotton and soya have been widely cultivated in Brazil for many years, so the regulatory process is well-established. Oxitec’s insects are different to GM crops in many ways, but assessments examine the merits of each approach independently and on the basis of strong science.
Following on from these trials the next phase for the mosquito product in Brazil is to make it available commercially. Trial results have been compiled into a commercial application which has been submitted to the National Biosafety Committee, the responsible authority in Brazil. This comprehensive submission compiled in three documents will allow an independent panel of experts to review all available information on the OX513A Ae. aegypti strain. The dossier compiles all current information from the trials, along with laboratory studies and published information, documents the extensive characterisation of the OX513A strain and assesses the expected outcomes of use of the strain for mosquito control across Brazil. As part of this process, Oxitec has provided both a human and animal health risk assessment and an environmental risk assessment. This information will be independently reviewed as part of the CTNBio process. For full transparency we are applying to CTNBio to publish the dossier on their website.
With Oxitec’s expanding activities in Brazil against the dengue fever vector, Aedes aegypti, public health authorities in dengue-endemic regions are increasingly showing interest in our technology. To allow Oxitec’s team to rapidly respond to requests for help in tackling the mosquito, we have developed a Mobile Rearing Unit, or MRU.
To permit easy transportation, the MRU is adapted from a shipping container, but comprises state-of-the-art insect rearing adaptations, such as a controlled temperature environment and space-saving larval-rearing systems, to permit efficient and precise production of high-quality male Oxitec mosquitoes, which are ‘genetically sterile’, for release into Ae. aegypti-infested localities. The mobile facility can be transported to any country in the world and start releasing mosquitoes within 3 months, subject to regulatory approval. All that is required in-country is connection to water and electricity. Eggs will be shipped from Oxitec’s UK production facility, and then hatched and reared to adulthood on location, prior to release.
The MRU will also allow interested parties to establish an easy-to-set-up Oxitec mosquito control demonstration program, without the need for investment in new facilities, to see how such a programme would work and demonstrate efficacy. Oxitec’s mosquito production procedures are fully standardised, and the MRU will allow this to be quickly applied in a new location, without the complications of adapting to new facilities.
Oxitec has applied to the Spanish regulatory authorities for permission to carry out a field evaluation of a novel approach to controlling one of Europe’s most damaging agricultural pests.
The olive has been cultivated for over 6000 years in Spain, which is the world’s leading producer of olive oil. There are over 260 olive varieties grown there, and their production represents an economic and cultural cornerstone for rural Spain. The olive fly (Bactrocera oleae), native to eastern Africa, is the single major pest of olives, causing up to 30% crop losses and hefty financial losses to Europe’s olive farmers. Existing control strategies rely upon insecticide sprays, which have limited effectiveness against the burrowing larva of the fly. Widespread resistance to these chemicals in the olive fly further threatens olive farmers’ livelihood, and the chemicals that can be used due to EU regulation of pesticides are increasingly restricted.
Oxitec have developed a product which could provide olive growers with a highly effective addition to current methods. Called OX3097D-Bol, the product strain carries a genetic modification that prevents female flies from developing, unless reared in the presence of an antidote in the laboratory or insect rearing factory. Following Oxitec’s approach to pest control, males of the strain are released to mate with wild females, resulting in the death of females in the subsequent generation. As the method relies upon the mate-seeking behavior of released male flies, the effect is highly species-specific – with minimal effect on the wider ecosystem – and should be highly effective at reducing populations of this non-native fly to very low levels. The Oxitec olive fly strain has shown promising performance in contained experiments carried out in the UK and Greece, as reported in an earlier newsletter article and a recent peer-reviewed paper, and is now set for field-based assessment.
The olive fly trials proposed in Spain will be conducted in a fully netted environment in an area of less than 1 km2; multiple plots at a single site, each comprising four olive trees. “Our in-house testing has already shown that our approach has the potential to be a potent weapon against the olive fly.” said Oxitec Senior Scientist, Dr Martha Koukidou. “This netted trial would be the first step in gathering essential information on the performance of our strain in a field environment”.
Oxitec has applied to the Catalan regulatory authorities for permission to conduct the evaluation, in accordance with EU regulations. Only when the national biosafety commission has evaluated the application and written permission has been received from the Catalan authorities can any release take place. There will be a period for public comment, and other EU states will be informed and can provide comments to the process: we will make available a link to the website for public comments when it becomes active.
In August, Oxitec Brazil started renting premises in a technology park on the outskirts of Campinas, about 100km from São Paulo city. Campinas is well suited to our needs, having a good road network, a well-connected regional airport (Viracopos) and a thriving community of biotech businesses in agriculture and health applications. This decision to establish a physical base in Brazil reflects our commitment to Brazil, and recent progress leading to the submission in July of our technical dossier to regulatory authorities.
The baseline production capacity that will be established at the site will supply future other demonstration projects and, subject to regulatory approval, commercial sales.
The Jacobina programme (see article above), led by our partners Moscamed and Professor Margareth Capurro of the University of Sao Paulo, is the largest dengue mosquito control programme, to date, using Oxitec’s approach. Moscamed’s press release, in Portuguese, can be found here: http://www.moscamed.org.br/2012/noticias/96. While most of the press coverage was local to Brazil we were fortunate to have two international TV programmes at the launch. France 24’s environmental television programme, Down to Earth. This programme can be viewed here: http://www.france24.com/en/20130704–down-earth-mosquitoes-dengue-jacobina-oxitec-biotechnology-genetic-modification-moscamed. In the UK, BBC2’s Science Club hosted by Dara O’Briain also featured the story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03889v9/Dara_O_Briains_Science_Club_Series_2_DIY_Science/ The Oxitec feature starts at 42 minutes (unfortunately, this content is only available up to mid-September and only in the UK).
As those familiar with Oxitec will know, we take communication very seriously. So to support the Brazilian programme we have set up our own website http://br.oxitec.com/ and Facebook page (search for Oxitec-Brasil). We would also highly recommend Moscamed’s Facebook page (Moscamed-Brasil), which carries frequent updates on the Projeto Aedes Transgenico ‘PAT’ project.
While Oxitec have led the way in developing a solution for the dengue mosquito we have also been developing solutions for agricultural pests. Last year we reported that contained trials were complete for our olive fly strain and we have now applied for regulatory approval to begin small-scale trials in Spain. This trial, if approved, would be the first open release of a GM insect in Europe, so we anticipate that it will attract some media attention. We aim to add new sections on our website to provide up-to-date information as the project progresses. An e-book can also be downloaded from our website from this page: http://www.oxitec.com/new-oxitec-ebook-controlling-insects-that-spread-disease-and-damage-crops/ In Europe, perceptions around the use of recombinant DNA techniques have become polarised. For those interested in this subject we recommend a recent paper by Professor Thomas Miller, from the University of California, which can be downloaded here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.3606/abstract
And finally, we would like to say a special thank you to all the students and interns who have worked with us over the summer. Florie, Sam, Julia, Jake, Nick, Alexia, Daniel and Peter: your efforts are very much appreciated!