In our fireside chat with Hadyn Parry, Clara had the chance to hear all about Oxitec’s exciting technology that could save us from Dengue and Zika.
Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes have the potential to halt epidemics of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika or Dengue, which according to Hadyn are actually causing more problems every year. As Hadyn explained, “we’re not using chemicals, we’re using the mosquito against itself.” Oxitec’s technology hinges on engineering male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit Zika and Dengue, with a ‘self-limiting’ gene causing their offspring to die. “The more males we can release, the more they’ll mate with the females, the faster the population will come down,” Hadyn told us.
Using this approach, the biotech has been able to reduce mosquito populations of the Aedes aegypti species by over 90% by releasing Oxitec’s Friendly Aedes mosquito in field trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, and Panama. A massive shift, compared to the 35% reduction that can be achieved using conventional insecticides. Additionally, all of Oxitec’s mosquitoes are equipped with a fluorescent marker that allows to monitor the insects with an app.
Hadyn also told us more about the regulatory challenges of trying to release GMOs into the environment. “The challenges are huge, really. We’re always the first in any country in the world to say: Can we release genetically engineered mosquitoes?”
But the company set out to work together with regulatory bodies and has carried out briefings and training sessions together with partners like the WHO to inform regulators about risk assessment in the world of mosquitoes. “We’ve been at the forefront of trying to educate regulators,” Hadyn commented.
Despite the massive amount of controversy that has been surrounding the touchy issue of GMOs, Oxitec is incredibly transparent about its mosquitoes, engaging the public as much as possible – even in remote areas where local media is limited. The biotech even convinced the state of Florida to vote in favor of releasing the GM mosquitoes.
Talking about Oxitec’s future plans, Hadyn told us about the biotech’s next-generation of mosquitoes that specifically kills the female offspring. Now, Hadyn said he is waiting for green light to target the Anopheles mosquito that spreads Malaria, although, according to Hadyn, it’s much more difficult to convince investors of a disease predominantly affecting African countries. In the longer term, the biotech also plans to transfer its technology to insects to target agricultural challenges.
To hear more about Oxitec’s inspiring public campaigns and exciting plans for the future, have a look at the video!