Biotech company bets on GMO mosquitoes to fight dengue in Brazil as cases surge

By Leonardo Benassatto

(Reuters) - British biotechnology company Oxitec is betting on a solution to Brazil's surging dengue cases, involving the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in an effort to reduce the viral infection's spread.

The firm has developed a version of the male Aedes aegypti mosquito which carries a gene that kills female offspring before they reach maturity, suppressing the population. Only female mosquitoes bite and transmit diseases.

Eggs for the mosquitoes are placed inside a box and water is added to activate them.

"They complete the cycle inside these boxes in about ten days and the adult insects come out to do their work," said Oxitec's general manager in Brazil, Natalia Ferreira.

As the modified mosquitoes are released in a given region, they proliferate and the total population of the insect decreases.

Brazil is dealing with a massive outbreak of dengue fever in the early months of 2024 fueled by its hot rainy season. As of Feb. 27, more than 973,000 likely dengue cases had been notified in the country this year.

According to the health ministry, 195 people died because of the disease, while 672 further obits are being investigated.

The mosquito population in a neighborhood where the company has done the treatment is up to 90% lower than in a neighborhood where it hasn't been done, Ferreira said.

The city of Suzano, in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, is using the solution after declaring a state of emergency earlier this month. The boxes are being placed in strategic locations throughout the city.

"We hope that the next measurement will show a reduction of 20% so that we can get out of this state of emergency," the mayor of Suzano, Rodrigo Ashiuchi, told Reuters.

(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing and additional reporting by Peter Frontini, Editing by Franklin Paul)