Oxitec (originally Oxford Insect Technologies) is a UK-based biotechnology company that develops genetically modified insects[1][2][3] to assist in insect control. The genetically modified populations act as a "living insecticide". Destructive insects are controlled without the use of insecticides that may inflict unwanted side effects. The company claims that its method of population control is more effective than insecticides and more environmentally friendly.[4]

Oxitec
IndustryBiotechnology
FoundedOxford, United Kingdom (2002 (2002))
Key people
  • Luke Alphey (Founder), Grey Frandsen (CEO)
ParentThird Security
Websiteoxitec.com

HistoryEdit

Oxitec was founded in 2002 by Luke Alphey and David Kelly working with Oxford University's Isis Innovation technology transfer company.[5][6][7][8] In August 2015 Oxitec was purchased by U.S.-based Intrexon in a deal valued at $160 million.[9][7][8] Oxitec was purchased by US-based Third Security in early 2020.[10]

The OX5034 generation of Oxitec's self-limiting mosquito technology began field trials on May 23, 2018 in Indaiatuba, a municipality in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. The trial was to cover 2,000 residents to suppress A. aegypti mosquitos.[citation needed]. The company announced the trial's results in June, 2019.[11]

The company experimentally released a genetically engineered diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) in New York in 2020[12] and an engineered pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) in Arizona in 2011.[13]

CEO Grey Frandsen was appointed in 2017.[14] He is an American who led start-up initiatives in the U.S. government and the private and non-profit sectors on matters relating to national and global public health security, biotechnology and crisis response.[15] Frandsen led the company's transition to its 2nd generation technology[16] while expanding its programs to advance its mosquito and agricultural technologies.[17][18]

Oxitec established partnerships with large agricultural industry[19] leaders and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,[20] which helped to advance Oxitec's 2nd generation technology.

Frandsen was named one of Malaria No More's 10-to-End innovators in 2019.[21] Frandsen is the chairman of the board of directors for Pilgrim Africa,[22] an NGO implementing malaria control programs in Uganda funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,[23] the Global Fund and private donors.

In 2020, Oxitec's OX5034 mosquito was approved for release by state and federal authorities for use in Florida.[24] The company claimed that it had already released over 1 billion mosquitos without problems.[25] In April 2021, boxes containing mosquito eggs were placed at six locations. Once they hatched, about 12,000 males were expected weekly over the following 12 weeks, totaling 144k. In the second phase, nearly 20 million mosquitoes were expected over 16 weeks. Researchers will measure how far the males travel, lifespan, effects on the wild female population and on female mortality.[26]

Florida Keys projectEdit

Residential pushbackEdit

Opposition has been fierce from some residents. Worried about bites by the mosquitoes and/or ecosystem disruption — and generally unhappy about becoming a test site — some have threatened to derail the experiments by spraying insecticides near the release points. “As you can imagine, emotions run high, and there are people who feel really strongly either for or against it,” said molecular biologist Natalie Kofler, who is the founder of Editing Nature, an organization that advocates for responsible development and oversight of gene-editing technologies. “And I can see how, if you didn’t agree to this, it could be really concerning to have mosquitoes released in your neighborhood.”

Many of the concerns stem from the uncertainty surrounding a new technology, says Kofler. Oxitec has been engaging with the Florida Keys community to inform the public. They explained, for instance, the low likelihood that female mosquitoes with the lethal gene could reproduce.

Transgenic yellow fever mosquitoEdit

OX5034 male offspring survive, allowing mating cycles that further reduce the pest population. This function is time-limited. In subsequent generations fewer and fewer males pass on their self-limiting genes. OX5034 males were expected to disappear from the environment 10 generations after releases stop.[27]

Oxitec developed a genetically modified version of Aedes aegypti to help control the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.[28][29] Oxitec created genetically-altered males of the species (OX513A) that produce the protein tTA, which negatively affects cell development. While it was presented as a sterile insect technique in a publication by Oxitec,[30] this was disputed. [31] One published study, successfully challenged by Oxitec and even some of the study's co-authors and now marked with an Editorial Expression of Concern[32] stated that it found that the transgenic mosquitoes had successfully hybridized with the local A. aegypti population.[33] In 2017 Oxitec started to develop a genetically modified version of the Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus.[34]

Field trialsEdit

At first, field trials were performed on Grand Cayman, starting in 2009. Approximately 3.3 million of the transgenic male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released. The experiments demonstrated that the animals were able to survive in this environment and produce offspring. Some eleven weeks after the release, a decline in the A. aegypti mosquito population by about 80% was observed. The tests were deemed a success by scientists but criticism emerged over communication policy.[35] In May 2016 Grand Cayman announced a program to use Oxitec mosquitoes to combat the virus. The first phase informed the community about the programme. The next phase treated an area with about 1,800 residents in West Bay and 88% fewer Aedes aegypti mosquito eggs were found compared to an equivalent untreated area.[36][37][38]

In 2011 another field test took place in Brazil in cooperation with the company Moscamed and the University of São Paulo, in which transgenic A. aegypti mosquitoes were released in large numbers and the mosquito population declined by 80–95%.[39][40] More field trials were carried out in Malaysia and Panama.[41][42] Another field trial was planned in Florida in 2016, but was cancelled.[43][44] In 2016 the World Health Organization encouraged field trials of transgenic male A. aegypti mosquitoes to try to halt the spread of the Zika virus.[45]

In November 2018, the Cayman Islands government elected to cease any new field trial agreements with Oxitec, citing cost-benefit concerns with the technologies as the primary concern. [46] Health Minister Dwayne Seymour and other legislators expressed skepticism on-the-record about the trials' effectiveness.[47] However, Oxitec and the Mosquito Research and Control Unit of the Cayman Islands continue to analyze the data collected over the 10 year project. The details of the latest 2018 trial were due to be finished by the second quarter of 2019. [48]

A 2019 study[49] found that the Oxitec mosquitoes released around the city of Jacobina, Brazil had recovered[clarification needed] and that genes that are characteristic of the source population of the altered males had entered the wild population in Brazil. The engineered genes for antibiotic dependence were not found in the wild population. Some 450,000 males were released every week for 27 months. Wild populations were studied before the program began and again at intervals of 6, 12 and 27 to 30 months afterwards.[50] After investigation, the publisher issued an Editorial Expression of Concern for this article, outlining four major concerns which corresponded to Oxitec's statement at the time of publishing. It was also found that some of the authors indicated that they had not approved the final version that was submitted for publication.[32]

There have been several critical responses to the paper,[51] including entomologist Jason Rasgon of Pennsylvania State University, who was reported as saying that the genetic finding from the study was important but that some things in the paper were over-hyped and irresponsible.[52] Oxitec put out a statement responding to the paper, citing concern with the paper's "misleading and speculative statements". The company's statement included rebuttals directed against some of these statements; all of these were confirmed by Scientific Reports and Nature Magazine in March 2020 in their Editorial Expression of Concern. [53][32]

RegulationEdit

OX513A was approved by Brazil's National Biosecurity Technical Commission (CTNBio) in April 2014.[54] It was used to try to combat the Zika in Piracicaba, São Paulo in 2016.[55]

Brazil’s health-regulatory agency, Anvisa, declared on 12 April 2016 that it would regulate Oxitec’s mosquitoes. Anvisa announced that it was creating a legal framework for regulations. It requested Oxitec to demonstrate that its technology was safe and could reduce the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses.[56]

The Netherlands agreed to release Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes to fight dengue fever, chikungunya and zika in Saba, a Dutch Caribbean island, after a report by The National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)[57] examined the effects that these mosquitoes could have in the local ecosystem and concluded the release of the mosquitoes would not pose risks to human health or the environment. The French High Council for Biology supported Oxitec mosquito releases.[58]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit