The unit will be capable of producing up to a billion genetically-modified mosquito eggs per week.
In a statement earlier today, Oxitec announced that it would produce its first centralized “Friendly Aedes” mosquito production units. The unit is capable of producing up to a billion genetically-modified mosquito eggs per week, which can be transported around the world to assist in efforts to tamp down mosquito-born disease outbreaks.
Oxitec is a subsidiary of Intrexon, which is investing the equivalent of $9.5 million USD into the project. The company uses genetic engineering to modify male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes do not bite; when the modified insects mate with females, their offspring die before reaching functional maturity. The produced mosquitoes “also inherit a fluorescent marker that allows tracking and monitoring at a level never before achieved, making the assessment of effectiveness more accurate.”
The process is seen as an ecologically sound alternative to the use of pesticides.
"For the first time, we can target our enemy with surgical precision at scale without impacting the environment, beneficial insects, or human health, unlike conventional vector control methods," said Lieutenant General (Retired) Thomas Bostick, PhD, PE, in a statement. Bostick is head of Intrexon's environment sector. "This new mosquito egg production unit is a critical step toward meeting our objective in supporting governments around the world in their fight against Aedes aegypti and the diseases they transmit."
Mark Carnegie-Brown, Oxitec’s CEO, called the technology a “paradigm change” in efforts to control diseases like dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. Tens of millions of people suffer from mosquito-borne illnesses worldwide each year, and the statement indicates that over 700,000 die.
The announcement was made during a roundtable with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Mosquito-born illnesses have been a common-sense public health problem for tech to take aim at in recent years. Spurred partially by the buzz around Zika, companies have begun to invest money and goodwill into trying to mitigate their spread in eco-friendly ways. Microsoft has an initiative to build machine-learning enabled smart traps to enable better studying. Verily, meanwhile, has developed a sorting machine that allows the separation and sterilization of male Aedes aegypti.