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Releases of the genetically engineered Oxitec mosquito, commonly known as ‘Friendly Aedes aegypti’, reduced the dengue mosquito population in an area of Juazeiro, Brazil by 95%, well below the modelled threshold for epidemic disease transmission.
Oxford, UK, 2nd July 2015
The journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases published today the results of a trial of Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes. The results showed that in Juazeiro city, northeast Brazil, the Oxitec mosquito successfully controlled the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads dengue fever, chikungunya and zika virus, by reducing the target population by more than 90%. Popularly known in Brazil as “Friendly Aedes aegypti”, the Oxitec mosquito decreased the population of the dengue mosquito so low that it would not support epidemic disease transmission according to mathematical models1.
“The fact that the number of Aedes aegypti adults were reduced by 95% in the treatment area confirms that the Oxitec mosquito does what it is supposed to and that is to get rid of mosquitoes,” said Dr Andrew McKemey, Head of Field Operations at Oxitec.
“According to published mathematical models reviewed and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) working group on dengue, it would also reduce the number of biting mosquitoes below the disease transmission threshold.
“The next step is to scale up to even larger studies and run mosquito control projects on an operational basis.”
The study in the Itaberaba neighborhood of Juazeiro city in Bahia State, Brazil was led by University of São Paulo and Moscamed, a social company leading in environmentally friendly pest control. The treatment area included a population of approximately 1800 people.
How it works
This method of control is species-specific – the Oxitec male mosquitoes are released to mate with the pest females and their offspring die because of a self-limiting gene before they can reproduce and before they can become transmitters of disease. The mosquitoes also carry a colour marker for monitoring, and the insects and their genes do not persist in the environment.
Mosquito control in Brazil
“This invasive mosquito and the diseases it carries is a real challenge. Aedes aegypti is developing resistance to insecticides and even when we remove breeding sites they continue to reproduce and transmit diseases because they live in areas that are difficult to treat. This is why we need new tools. We knew that the Oxitec mosquito was a promising tool, so we wanted to independently evaluate its effectiveness here in Brazil,” said Professor Margareth Capurro of São Paulo University.
Brazil is leading the way in applying new approaches to fight the dengue mosquito. Following approval of the Oxitec mosquito by the national biosafety group (CTNBio) for release throughout the country, the city of Piracicaba has started the world’s first municipal project of genetically engineered mosquito control.
Paper online http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0003864
1 Mathematical models www.ajtmh.org/content/62/1/11.long
Oxitec is a pioneer in using genetic engineering to control insect pests that spread disease and damage crops, and was founded in 2002 as a spinout from Oxford University (UK).
About the diseases spread by Aedes aegypti
Dengue, chikungunya and zika virus are debilitating diseases spread by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. Aedes aegypti is the primary vector and hence the priority for control. There is currently no vaccine or specific medication for these diseases. According to the WHO, the only way to combat dengue at present is to control the mosquitoes that spread the disease.
- Dengue causes severe flu-like symptoms, and in extreme cases can be fatal. There are nearly 400 million cases of dengue every year and its incidence is increasing rapidly around the world.
- Chikungunya can cause severe muscle pain and cramps, and over 10% of people can develop persistent arthralgia for a number of years after acute infection. The USA Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there have been more than one million cases in the Americas since 2013.
- Zika virus may cross-react with closely related viruses. This virus originated in Africa and has been spreading through Asia. This year it has spread into Brazil and the Caribbean.
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