GM mosquitoes used for the first time to fight deadly disease

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For the first time in human history, Genetically Modified insects are being released into the nature in Brazil. A fleet of GM mosquitoes are being released into the wild in Jacobina town of Bahia state in Brazil to kill all Dengue carrying natural mosquitoes. The move assumes great importance to Brazil as the country will be hosting football world cup in two months.

Dengue has been a big problem in Brazil as last year alone, 14 lakh cases were reported. There is no vaccine to the disease yet. The fever soon descends into hemorrhaging fever, causing severe shock in the patient, leading to coma and finally death. The disease goes from humans to mosquitoes to humans again. The traditional methods of using insecticides, fumigation, adding larvicides in water, sleeping nets or creams are not working as the vector mosquitoes bite victims during the day.

“We need to provide alternatives because the system we have now in Brazil doesn’t work, We have thousands and thousands of cases of dengue and that costs a lot for the country. People are unable to work.” said Aldo Malavasi, who is participating in creating these GM mosquitoes. Scientists are working with a strain of Aedes aegypti developed by a British biotech firm called Oxitec. Known as the OX513-A, it is the world’s first genetically modified insect to be set free in the wild.

But there are counter arguments too. “They are even harder to recall than plants are if anything goes wrong,” says Helen Wallace, director of the British environmental group GeneWatch. There are bound to be few female mosquitoes in the GM group, how ever the selection is strictly monitored, they night interbreed, or pass on their strain to natural mosquitoes, raising the fears to a new level, she elaborated. Besides, the disease is carried by other insects too, killing one mosquito strain may not eradicate the disease, offers another scientist.

But Brazil’s rural villages and towns like Jacobina are welcoming the move. They want to get rid of the Dengue scare first. The GM mosquito manufacturing company Moscamed has reported a reduction of 90% of disease carrying insects already. Another Central American country Panama will also try the same method soon. US FDA is also working on adopting the method in Florida Keys where Dengue has been hitting regularly.

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