Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Paraguayan Plan Could Use GMOs to Combat Dengue

Can genetically modified organisms (GMOs) combat the deadly dengue virus?  The answer could come out of Paraguay where the government is considering backing a pilot program using genetically modified mosquitos.

According to one media report, the strategy consists of using genetically modified male versions of the Aedes Aegypti mosquitos that normally spread the dengue virus.  These males would be introduced into areas with a high density of their female counterparts and left to procreate. The resulting larvae would die quickly due to the transgene passed down from the males.

Scientists representing British-based Oxitec Limited presented their plan to Paraguayan authorities earlier this month.  According to the Paraguayan press, one of the company’s experts claimed that their proposal successfully decreased the Aedes Aegypti mosquito population in Bahia, Brazil by 85%.  (A 2011 Oxitec newsletter described that a similar proposal reduced the number of Aedes Aegypti mosquitos on the Cayman Islands by 80%).

The firm also alleged that the genetically modified mosquitos would not represent a risk to the human populace since they don’t bite people.

“We’re looking to see if this project is feasible and if it can fit within the circumstances of our country,” said Agueda Cabello, director of Paraguay’s health ministry.  “If so, then it would be very interesting since it would be a tool that can be used to combat dengue,” she added.

At least 96 people have died in Paraguay this year due to dengue along with at least 448 cases of the disease reported in the country just in this month.

The disease affects millions or people worldwide, especially in tropical regions, and is characterized by high fever, severe body aches, rash and sometimes bleeding.  Researchers have been unable to develop a vaccine to fight dengue.

Last August, the Pan American Health Organization declared 2013 as the “year of the dengue plague” in Latin America and the Caribbean with roughly 1.4 million cases of the disease reported this year.

In Honduras, health authorities said that 24 people have died so far this year due to dengue though the number of reported cases has gone down.  Meanwhile, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has called on health officials "not to let down their guard" against a possible resurgence of dengue.

The use of GMOs in crops and food is a contentious topic worldwide including in Latin America.  In 2011, Peru became the first country in the Americas to place a ten-year ban on GMOs, which was a move that proponents believe has been mostly beneficial: 
“In the end, it’s not a law that’s ‘against’ anything,” says Antonietta Gutierrez, a biologist at Peru’s National Agrarian University. “This is a law in favor of biosecurity. The idea is that there should be a responsible way of using technology, so that it helps us develop resources – and at the same time, doesn’t destroy what we already have"…

“Our ancient cultures knew how to do this,” says (Peruvian Chef Pedro Miguel) Schiaffino. “They grew crops together, in terraces, with the seasons, with the rain, and natural irrigation. I think they had more knowledge about crops and cultivation and farming than we have now.”
Video Source– YouTube via EFE (Video uploaded in March 2013).

Online Sources –;; Xinhua; The Latin Americanist, Prensa Latina; Ultima Hora; Oxitec;; Centers for Disease Control

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