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Transgenic Mosquito Ready to Join War on Zika Virus

January 28, 2016
A number of media outlets are reporting on the mosquito-borne Zika virus and how concern is growing as cases are identified within the United States. Officials at the World Health Organization said Thursday that the Zika virus is "is now spreading explosively" with the disease in 23 countries and territories in the Americas, according to a CNN report.

A Reuters report offers hope that a genetically modified mosquito can reduce the proliferation of mosquitoes spreading Zika as research in Brazil has yielded positive results.

The self-limiting strain of the Aedes aegypti mosquito was developed by Oxitec, the UK-subsidiary of U.S. synthetic biology company Intrexon. The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring will die before reaching adulthood and being able to reproduce.

oxitec Graphic1Oxitec, which produces the mosquitoes in Campinas, announced it will build a second facility in nearby Piracicaba, Sao Paulo state, following strong results there in controlling the population of the Aedes vector that also carries the dengue virus.

Zika virus, first detected in Africa in the 1940's, was unknown in the Americas until last year when it appeared in northeastern Brazil. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which causes mild fever and rash.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel advisory warning pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant to avoid the countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America affected by the virus. CDC has also put out a Q&A document about the virus.

Oxitec said its proprietary OX513A mosquito succeeded in reducing wild larvae of the Aedes mosquito by 82 percent in a neighborhood of Piracicaba, where 25 million of the transgenic insects were released between April and November. Authorities reported a big drop in dengue cases in the area.

The transgenic mosquito known as OX513A was approved by Brazil's National Technical Commission for Biosafety (CTNBio), but needs authorization from health surveillance regulator Anvisa to move to commercial production.

***For more on re-engineering mosquitoes to fight disease, see Oxitec’s Hadyn Parry explain the technology in this TED talk.