Sitting right along the Piracicaba River, the climate of Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil is absolutely perfect for the mosquitoes that transmit diseases like Dengue, Zika, and Yellow Fever. It is also a great test subject for companies like Oxitec to effectively test their experiments to eradicate these mosquito-borne diseases.
Oxitec’s solution to mosquitoes in this area is to release more mosquitoes. Put like that, it sounds like the single most contradictory thing ever, but these mosquitoes are not normal mosquitoes.
Oxitec releases male mosquitoes called OX513A with a genetic modification that causes them to produce mosquitoes that do not live until adulthood. When these male mosquitoes mate with the females, the resulting mosquitoes do not live, which reduces the population.
It looks contradictory to release more mosquitoes, but in reality, they have no impact on humans. This is because the mosquitoes released are male mosquitoes, which are completely different from their female counterparts. They do not bite and, because of that, are unable to transmit diseases. This means that Oxitec can release as many male mosquitoes they want without affecting humans.
Oxitec’s mosquito control has been shown to reduce the population of wild mosquitoes by more than 90 percent. One of the most important aspects of Oxitec’s technology, however, is that it is extremely controllable. For example, if an unexpected environmental change is observed, Oxitec can adjust the amount of mosquitoes they release to compensate.
“It’s amazing what they’re doing to get rid of these diseases. They can save the world tons of money on caring for patients and allow for safer travel to places where these diseases are common,” said sophomore Julia Hiezer.
It is also worth mentioning that Oxitec’s solutions work much better than something like pesticides would, and they are not hurting the environment. Pesticides kill all kinds of mosquito, but Oxitec’s technology just replaces virus-spreading female mosquitoes. This way, animals like frogs that eat mosquitoes will not be affected, as they can just eat the genetically-modified male mosquitoes.
As of right now, Oxitec has received approval for testing in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, France, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the U.S., and Vietnam. Open field trials have taken place in the Cayman Islands, Panama, Brazil, and Malaysia, with Brazil and Grand Cayman having practical projects in place in areas like Piracicaba. A trial planned for the Florida Keys is currently in the process of receiving approval.
Freshman Rachel Shafar said, “These mosquitoes sound like they could help a lot of lives. I think it’s important for them to do more research and make sure sure it’s 100 percent safe and sustainable for the environment, but I am optimistic that we can eradicate mosquito diseases.”
What do you think about Oxitec’s mosquito-borne disease control? Is it a good idea to mess with nature? Why?