Genetically Modified Mosquitoes To Combat Dengue In Brazil.....

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes To Combat Dengue In Brazil [click on image to enlarge]

A UK-based biotech firm is developing a new weapon to kill off the dengue virus. Researchers in Brazil are producing millions of male mosquitoes genetically modified with a gene that kills off their offspring. The plan is to release the GM males into the wild where they will mate with females who will give birth to mosquitoes that carry a gene that kills them before they reach maturity. The scientist say that if done on a large scale, the dengue-carrying mosquito population could be decimated in a matter of months. Ben Gruber reports. Reuters Videos 2:20 mins.
The world’s largest ever swarm of genetically modified mosquitoes has been released in a Brazilian town to combat dengue -- a leading cause of illness and fatality in the South American country, the media reported Friday.

Genetically modified (GM) in a laboratory with a gene designed to devastate the non-GM Aedes aegypti population and reduce dengue's spread, the newly hatched Aedes aegypti mosquitoes called “Franken-skeeters” were released in Jacobina, a farming town in Bahia state, The Independent reported.

“We need to provide alternatives because the system we have now in Brazil doesn’t work,” Global Post quoted Aldo Malavasi, president of Moscamed, a Brazilian company that’s raising and testing the GM mosquitoes in Jacobina, as saying.

“We have thousands and thousands of cases of dengue and that costs a lot for the country. People are unable to work.”

Last year, Brazil reported 1.4 million cases of dengue, which is endemic in three of the 12 host cities for this summer’s World Cup. There is no vaccine. The most severe form of the illness, dengue hemorrhagic fever, can lead to shock, coma and death, Global Post reported.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there has been a 30-fold increase in dengue cases around the globe during the last 50 years. More than one-third of the world’s population lives in regions at-risk for dengue viral infection, and as many as 400 million people are affected by the disease annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
In an effort to crack down on the spread of this mosquito-borne illness, countries around the world are doing whatever it takes.
SEE ALSO: How one country is getting creative about dengue fever
Brazil is no exception; the latest data indicates every year the number of cases of dengue grows significantly. In 2012 there were twice as many towns affected by the illness as compared to the previous year. In 2013, 1.476 million cases of dengue fever were reported from January to early November, nearly three times the figure of 545,000 cases registered the year before.
But Brazil isn’t taking the epidemic lightly.
A report from IFLScience indicates the country is looking to implement a mosquito control method that would help reduce the number of bugs carrying dengue to the population. The control method involves the release of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes; insects designed in a laboratory to create sterile offspring.
How can sterile mosquitoes help Brazil’s dengue issue?
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Genetically modified mosquitos set to fight dengue fever in Brazil. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
The goal of introducing sterile mosquitoes is to break the reproductive cycle of the insects, eventually decreasing numbers. The genetically modified bug will come courtesy of the UK-based company called Oxitec, where researchers have been striving to create what are called sustainable control methods.
Thus far, the best option Oxitec has come up with is the development of genetically modified male mosquitoes that carry a laboratory-introduced gene designed to prevent future generations from being able to successfully reproduce.
So, once out in the wild, the genetically modified males will breed with females, but the resulting offspring will carry the new genetics.
According to the company, the gene does not truly make the offspring sterile; rather, it prevents them from reaching sexual maturity, so once new mosquitoes with the altered genetics are born, they will die off before they can reproduce.
What’s more, the genetically engineered mosquitoes will be outfitted with tracking tags so researchers can keep tabs on where they are and how successful they are out in the environment. At this time, there is no concern regarding the insects’ inability to breed; scientists indicate they have viewed more than 150 generations of mosquitoes in the laboratory, and all have successfully passed on the “sterile” gene.
A trial with the altered bug was performed in the Cayman Islands, Brazil and Malaysia, and within 4 months of release the mosquito populations were reduced by 85 percent.
The success prompted Brazil to approve the commercial production of genetically engineered insects by Oxitec. Current plans indicate the company intends to start releasing the sterile mosquitoes in in Jacobina and Bahia first.
SEE ALSO: Dengue fever cases four times more common than thought.

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