A UK-based biotech firm is developing a new weapon to kill off the dengue virus. Researchers in Brazil are producing millions of male mosquitoes genetically modified with a gene that kills off their offspring. The plan is to release the GM males into the wild where they will mate with females who will give birth to mosquitoes that carry a gene that kills them before they reach maturity. The scientist say that if done on a large scale, the dengue-carrying mosquito population could be decimated in a matter of months. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: For humans - these are the deadliest creatures on Earth. Mosquito-born illnesses kill more people each year than all other animals combined. And dengue fever, which effects tens of millions of people each year is seemingly out of control in Brazil - which has seen cases of the potentially deadly virus increase 30 fold over the past 50 years. But now, scientists from UK-based biotech firm Oxitec say they have solution. Researcher Sofia Bastos Pinto and her team are genetically modifying millions of male mosquitoes whose sole purpose is to kill their own kind until the entire population is wiped out. (SOUNDBITE) (Portuguese) GENETICIST AND SUPERVISOR OR PRODUCTION, SOFIA BASTOS PINTO, SAYING: "What we do is release males into the environment so they can mate with the females. The sperm of our male enters the egg and transmits the gene to all of his descendants, this first line of descendants will inherit this gene, and then will die." These transgenic insects carry a gene programmed to kill their offspring before they reach maturity... meaning they will never reproduce. And if the insects can't reproduce, Bastos says the entire population dies out. In a recent trial, the process reduced a local population of dengue mosquitoes by 96 percent. Bastos and her team are now starting to produce genetically modified mosquitoes at a lab in Campinas, Brazil, a town where 40,000 cases of dengue have already been reported just this year. Oxitec says the genetically modified bugs pose no risk to humans and the process of releasing millions of them into the environment is safe. They are now awaiting government approval to start the process on a larger scale. Bastos says that may take some time. (SOUNDBITE) (Portuguese) GENETICIST AND SUPERVISOR OR PRODUCTION, SOFIA BASTOS PINTO, SAYING: "We know we are in the process, but it is a new thing, it is the first transgenic insect in the world which will be approved to be used for commercial purposes. So, it takes awhile to be resolved." Bastos says that if killer-gene-carrying mosquitoes prove effective on a large scale combating dengue, they could also prove successful in tackling malaria and other vector born diseases.