OXFORD, UK, 8 June 2016 – Oxitec welcomes the report “Gene Drives on the Horizon”, released today by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. This report outlines the need for phased testing of gene-drive modified organisms before they can be released into the environment and calls for clearer regulatory oversight of this technology.
Oxitec recognises the valuable work being conducted on gene-drive technologies for the use of mosquito control. However, we share the view of The Academies that these technologies require considerable testing in the laboratory, followed by rigorous and carefully-controlled field trials, before they can be deployed. Gene-drive systems are designed to establish themselves permanently in the environment and cannot be recalled once they are released. This raises concerns regarding potential irreversible changes to vector and disease dynamics.
As detailed in the white paper “Oxitec’s Vector Control Solution – A Paradigm Shift in Mosquito Control”, these concerns are not restricted to gene-drive approaches, but are also apparent for other methods of vector control that persist in the environment. One such method involves the insertion of the bacteria, Wolbachia, into the mosquito, which causes reproductive alterations in its hosts. Once Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are released, they pass on this bacterium so that it becomes established in the wild population and is unable to be recalled.
In contrast to vector control approaches that spread in the environment, Oxitec’s method is designed to be highly controllable. Our Aedes aegypti OX513A mosquitoes are engineered to contain a self-limiting gene. We release male mosquitoes to mate with wild females, passing on this gene to their offspring so that they die before reaching adulthood. Oxitec’s self-limiting solution does not persist in the environment, unlike gene-drive methods which are designed to spread and persist in subsequent generations of mosquitoes. In addition, Oxitec’s mosquitoes contain a fluorescent colour marker, providing a means of tracking the mosquitoes in the field and enable demonstration that once releases stop no detectable insects remain.
Oxitec’s solution has already undergone multiple successful field trials in three different countries, all of which demonstrated that the self-limiting mosquitoes reduced the wild population by more than 90%. Projects utilising Oxitec’s solution are currently underway in both Brazil and the Cayman Islands, and pilot deployment under operational conditions has been recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Furthermore, Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes have a defined regulatory pathway. In the United States, for example, a trial proposed in the Florida Keys is under review from the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM). In contrast, the regulatory context for gene-drive technologies requires further definition.
Oxitec is the only GM insect company in the world and a pioneer in using genetic engineering to control insect pests that spread disease and damage crops. Oxitec was founded in 2002 as a spinout from Oxford University (UK), and is now a subsidiary of Intrexon Corporation (NYSE: XON), which engineers biology to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Oxitec’s self-limiting insect control targets only the one species of pest in a way that is non-toxic and pesticide-free, providing vector control that is both effective and environmentally friendly. Follow us on Twitter at @Oxitec.
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