Inside the GM Mosquito Factory That Could Stop Dengue and Zika

At 7 A.M. on a midsummer day in Piracicaba, a city in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, Cecilia Kosmann sat in the back of a van surrounded by plastic take-out containers filled with genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Every two minutes or so, she shook a container through a plastic funnel, releasing them into the cool outside air.

This technology was developed by a UK biotech company Oxitec. The genetically modifed mosquitoes (usualy males, referred to Frankensquitoes), would mate with wild females. As the females produce offsprings, the next generation would not survive to adults, because they would require tetracycline, an antibiotic that is rarely available in the world, in their diet to survive to adulthood. Overtime as the population of the GM mosquitoes build up, the population of the disease-carrying mosquitoes Aedes Aegypti (transmitting Dengue Fever and Chikunguya) would fall, leading the transmission rate of these diseases being significantly reduced and eventually eliminated.

The GM insects are bred nearby in the city of Campinas, at a facility that can produce two million mosquitoes a week. In an all-white room, mosquitoes are mated and the resulting larvae divided by sex. Workers whisk at stray mosquitoes with electrified tennis rackets—the kind you see in novelty stores, but which have sold out in mosquito-obsessed Brazil. Oxitec suggest the program has decreased the number of wild mosquitoes by more than 80 percent in the treated neighborhoods.

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