London- Releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could help stop the Zika outbreak “very quickly,” scientists have claimed.
A global health emergency has been declared by the World Health Organization following increased virus reports.
The virus has been linked to multiple birth defects including microcephaly – or shrunken skulls.
A British company is preparing to increase supplies of its genetically-modified mosquitoes to Brazil, in its bid to fight the Zika virus.
Now, British Biotech Company Oxitec, a spin off from Oxford University, has pioneered a technique to genetically modify mosquitoes so that the males become sterile to a certain degree. Scientists there are claiming that the virus could be brought fast under control if millions of genetically modified mosquitoes were released into the wild.
Hadyn Parry, chief executive of Oxitec, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I think a roll-out of GM mosquitoes could stop this very quickly indeed.”
“We’re expecting to get the go ahead very soon and then this could make a real difference.”
He assured that Oxitec will release male mosquitoes that cannot transmit the disease as they do not bite.
Trials in Brazil have already shown that the GM insects can causes populations of the dangerous “Aedes Aegypti” mosquito to decrease by 90 per cent. The Brazilian Health Ministry is expected to give the go-ahead for Oxitec to begin supplying the insects across the country in the next few weeks.
The mosquitoes are genetically engineered to have a ‘kill switch’ gene which is passed to offspring and prevents them reaching maturity.
Moreover, US President Barack Obama has asked the Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus through mosquito control programs, vaccine research, education and improving health care for low-income pregnant women, the White House said.
In the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean Office (EMRO) of the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the region is considered a Zika virus-free zone.
Dr. Alaa Alwan, the regional director of EMRO, said that it does not mean that Middle Eastern countries are not vulnerable to the mosquito-borne disease. “The presence of mosquitoes in a number of countries in the Middle East goes for the possibility.”
However, WHO is closely working with regional ministries of health to curb mosquitoes and strengthen disease-monitoring mechanisms.