An experimental trial to reduce the number of mosquitoes in a Brazilian town by releasing genetically modified mosquitoes has not gone as planned. Traces of the mutated insects have been detected in the natural population of mosquitoes, which was never supposed to happen.
The deliberate release of 450,000 transgenic mosquitoes in Jacobina, Brazil has resulted in the unintended genetic contamination of the local population of mosquitoes, according to new research published last week in Scientific Reports. Going into the experimental trial, the British biotech company running the project, Oxitec, assured the public that this wouldn’t happen. Consequently, the incident is raising concerns about the safety of this and similar experiments and our apparent inability to accurately predict the outcomes.
The point of the experiment was to curb the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, such as yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika, in the region. To that end, Oxitec turned to OX513A—a proprietary, transgenically modified version of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. To create its mutated mosquito, Oxitec took a lab-grown strain originally sourced from Cuba and genetically mixed it with a strain from Mexico.