Oxitec has begun taking its “Friendly” technology for controlling disease-transmitting mosquitoes without pesticides directly to the Brazilian public.
“It’s time to give power to the people to act against this growing public health threat with safe, effective products they will love to use,” said Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen in a news release.
Residents of the State of São Paulo can now order boxes of Oxitec’s genetically modified (GM) non-biting Aedes aegypti male mosquito eggs, which are delivered to their homes. They simply add water and wait for the insects to hatch. When the males emerge, they mate with wild Aedes aegypti females, an invasive species of mosquitoes that transmits diseases like Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever through their bites. Because the males have been genetically modified to carry a self-limiting gene, their resulting female offspring do not live to maturity, thus naturally suppressing future generations of biting female mosquitoes.
Oxitec’s “Friendly” technology, which last year received full biosafety commercial approval from CTNBio, Brazil’s biosafety authority, controls Aedes aegypti without harming beneficial insect species, like bees and butterflies. And unlike pesticides, it does not persist in the environment.
Oxitec is the first vertically integrated biotechnology company delivering pest control solutions directly to end-users. By adopting a direct-to-customer model, Oxitec hopes to build lasting relationships with customers, manage rapid fulfilment and product support, and continually innovate on product features that matter most to customers. It plans to scale production and expand availability to other states nationally after the São Paulo launch.
“We believe that addressing the growing threat of mosquitoes in the coming decades requires a complete re-write of the rules,” Frandsen said. “We’re driven by the belief that the fight will be won not with more chemical pesticides, but by making a new generation of safe, environmentally friendly products accessible to everyone, when and where they’re needed.”
Research previously conducted in Brazil showed the method was extremely effective, successfully suppressing 95 percent of the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in the targeted urban environment following just 13 weeks of treatment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are 390 million dengue infections per year, with approximately half of the world’s population at risk. The number of dengue cases reported to the WHO has increased more than 15-fold during the past two decades.
“Brazilians have been suffering for too long from the impact this dengue mosquito has on our lives, and our team is committed to scaling-up as quickly as we can to serve as many people as we can,” said Natalia Ferreira, managing director of Oxitec do Brazil, in a press release. “It is truly the beginning of a new era in Brazil, and people will now have the tools they need to control Aedes aegypti safely.”
Oxitec is currently piloting the method in the Florida Keys — making it the first place that GM mosquitoes were approved for released in the United States. The US-owned company is also looking to conduct trials in California.
The US field research is intended to show that GM mosquitoes are a viable alternative to spraying insecticides in a bid to control a disease-carrying species of mosquito. Due to climate change, the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are spreading into new regions throughout the Western United States, including more than 300 cities and towns across California.
Oxitec has also successfully applied its “Friendly” technology to another inset pest, the invasive and destructive fall armyworm, which destroys corn and other crops. CTNBio deregulated the Friendly fall armyworm earlier this year.
Image: Residents of São Paulo, Brazil, can now have a genetically modified method of mosquito control delivered to their door. Photo: Oxitec.