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Releasing millions of GM mosquitoes ‘could solve zika crisis’
Releasing GM mosquitoes in Brazil has seen populations of infectious insects fall by 90 per cent
By Sarah Knapton
6 February 2016
Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes should be released into countries affected by zika to bring the current crisis under control, scientists have claimed.
Thousands of babies have been born with shrunken heads after their mothers were bitten by zika infected mosquitoes in Latin America.
The World Health Organisation has now declared the outbreak to be a global public health emergency and asked for help from countries around the world in defeating the virus.
But scientists at British biotech company Oxitec, a spin off from Oxford University, believe the virus could be brought under control in just a few months if millions of genetically modified mosquitoes were released into the wild.
Trials in Brazil have already shown that the GM insects can causes populations of the dangerous aedes aegypti mosquito to drop by 90 per cent, and causes of dengue to fall by 99 per cent.
In the next few weeks, the Brazilian Health Ministry is expected to give the green light for Oxitec to begin supplying the insects across the country. The WHO is also broadly in favour of the new technology.
Hadyn Parry, Chief Executive of Oxitec, said: “I think a role out of GM mosquitoes could stop this very quickly indeed.
“We’re expecting to get the go ahead very soon and then this could make a real difference.”
The mosquitoes are genetically engineered to have a ‘kill switch’ gene which is passed to offspring and prevents them reaching maturity. A second genetic alteration causes the pupae to glow in the dark so that scientists can keep track.
They were initially released into the town of Piracicaba, near Sao Paolo which has a population of around 3,000 people.
Secretary of Health in Piracicaba, Pedro Mello, said the trial had been a success and they were planning to expand the release in the region and investing in its own GM mosquito factory.
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