TECH

UK Facility To Engineer One Billion 'Safe' Mosquitos A Week In Fight Against Diseases

725,000 people are killed by a mosquito bite every year.

19/09/2017 16:14 BST

A UK-based biotech company is stepping up its fight against viruses like Zika by building a huge facility that can engineer one billion ‘safe’ mosquitos every single week.

Known as the Friendly Aedes mosquito, these males do not bite or transmit diseases. When they mate with a female the offspring inherit a self-limiting gene that causes them to die before reaching functional adulthood.

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By introducing vast numbers of these engineered mosquitos governments can start to effectively combat wild populations that can spread deadly diseases such as Zika, yellow fever and dengue.

Run by Oxitec Ltd, a subsidiary of Intrexon Corporation, the UK facility was unveiled by both Intrexon’s CEO and Prime Minister Theresa May at a roundtable event in New York City.

The new £7.3m facility will increase Oxitec’s production of the ‘safe’ mosquito eggs by more than 20-fold and has been designed to meet increasing demand.

Oxitec believe its approach to mosquito population control is unique thanks to two key features.

The first is that every one of their mosquitos passes on a flourescent market that allows for precise tracking. Secondly, all Friendly Aedes mosquitos die along with their offspring, effectively preventing them from persisting in the environment and removing any ecological footprint.

Oxitec certainly aren’t the only company to been investing in this form of mosquito control.

Earlier this year Google’s sister company Verily Life Sciences revealed an ambitious plan to unleash 20 million infected mosquito’s into the heart of California.

Project Debug

In this instance the mosquitos are infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia. This makes the mosquito sterile, so when they go out and mate with the biting females, the results are eggs that never hatch.

Eventually Verily believe they can reduce local populations by a significant amount, but without any genetic modification at all.