LONDON, September 10, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --
Releases of Oxitec's genetically modified mosquitoes achieved an 80% reduction of a local mosquito population in the Cayman Islands, as described today in the prestigious international scientific journal Nature Biotechnology.
A paper by the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) and Oxitec reports a successful demonstration of Oxitec's innovative approach to controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito - the insect responsible for spreading dengue fever. These data demonstrating the effectiveness of Oxitec's solution, previously made available to the scientific community through conference presentations, are now published in a major peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Commenting on the publication, Dr William Petrie, Director of the MRCU said:
"Dengue is a dangerous and debilitating disease which affects up to 100 million people each year. The incidence of dengue has grown very rapidly in recent years: it is now a serious threat to global health, and the only means of prevention is to target the mosquitoes which carry it. We need new tools in the fight against these dangerous pests, and today's publication shows that Oxitec's approach can provide that."
The dengue mosquito has spread globally during the last 50 years, and is an extremely difficult pest to control as it lives in and around the home. Conventional methods rely on chemical pesticides which can harm other insects and which are becoming less effective as mosquitoes develop resistance. Dengue is endemic in at least 100 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50 to 100 million infections occur yearly, mostly among children.
Oxitec's approach offers a practical, cost effective alternative to combat this growing problem. It involves the release of non-biting genetically modified 'sterile' male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to mate with wild females and suppress the target mosquito population.
Oxitec's Chief Scientific Officer, Luke Alphey, added:
"Today's publication reports an important result for us. We have developed our approach over a number of years and have conducted rigorous testing to ensure it is both sustainable and safe. These data indicate that it is also extremely effective, as previous laboratory and modelling work had led us to hope. 80% suppression is an excellent result, especially as wild mosquitoes could migrate into the trial area - we should see even stronger reduction in larger or more isolated areas. We believe this approach can be used in many countries to offer a more effective, greener solution to controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito and reducing Dengue Fever.
The trial reported in today's publication was conducted in 2010 in Grand Cayman by the MRCU, with eggs of Oxitec's genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquito provided by Oxitec.
Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry commented:
"Oxitec's innovative approach achieved an excellent result in Cayman, dramatically reducing an urban population of the Dengue mosquito. Following this trial we have since done out-door demonstrations of our solution in Malaysia and Brazil. As with all public health initiatives, community engagement and regulatory oversight are very important and we have been very pleased by the interaction with regulators and positive feedback from the local community. We believe our approach can be integrated into many existing vector control programmes and we look forward to working with communities around the world to help combat mosquitoes that spread disease.
Nature Biotechnology publication (Harris et al Nature Biotech. 30:828-830)
Fact box - what's in this paper
- 3.3 million Oxitec 'sterile' male mosquitoes were released in a site in Grand Cayman over a 23 week period
- In the final phase of the trial, Oxitec males were released in a 16 hectare area
- Released Oxitec males successfully mated wild females.
- By the end of the trial, there was an 80% reduction in the number of mosquitoes found in the trial area, relative to untreated areas.
About dengue fever
Until the 1960's dengue fever remained a relatively minor, geographically restricted disease. Since then globalisation and urbanisation have assisted the spread of the Aedes mosquito species that transmit dengue. The disease is caused by any of four closely related viruses or serotypes: dengue 1-4. Infection with one serotype and a consequent immune response does not protect against the other serotypes and subsequent infections put people at a greater risk of dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) and dengue shock syndrome (DSS). Dengue is now endemic in at least 100 countries in Asia, the Pacific, the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean. It was not until 1981 that large numbers of DHF cases began to appear in the Caribbean and Latin America. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50 to 100 million infections occur yearly, including 500,000 DHF cases and 22,000 deaths, mostly among children.
Twitter and Facebook: Oxitec
Oxitec is a UK company pioneering a new approach to combating insects that spread disease and damage crops. The Oxitec solution harnesses advanced genetics to create 'sterile' male insects to mate with females of the same species resulting in a population decline. Conventional insect pest control in both public health and agriculture focuses on the use of chemical pesticides. Insect transmitted diseases include Malaria, Dengue and West Nile Virus. It is also estimated that despite the use of pesticides some 20-40% of food production is lost to insects.
The Mosquito Research & Control Unit (MRCU) was established in 1965 and provides mosquito control on Grand Cayman and its sister islands. MRCU also performs leading research into mosquito behaviour, insecticide resistance and control methods and is internationally renowned for its public health contribution.
 Harris et al (2012) Nature Biotech. 30:828-830
 A recent publication reporting on the field performance of Oxitec's mosquitoes in Malaysia is available at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0042771