Brazil Announces Dengue Fever Emergency in GM Mosquito Trials Region

Posted on Jul 8 2014 - 5:20pm by Sustainable Pulse

Civil society groups today expressed alarm at an increase in dengue incidence, leading to an emergency decree, in a town in Brazil where releases of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes are taking place.

The promise was to create genetically modified mosquitoes that would end dengue, but results from field trials conducted in Bahia, Brazil have not been published to date and did not evaluate the relation between Aedes aegypti mosquito populations and the occurrence of dengue [1]. Nevertheless, the Brazilian regulator Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança (CTNBio) recently gave the green light to the commercialization of the technology proposed by Moscamed Brazil in partnership with the English company Oxitec and the Universidade de São Paulo.

The Brazilian press had welcomed the new weapon to combat dengue but missed the information that Jacobina’s mayor, a locality where the trials took place, issued a decree in February 2014 renewing the state of emergency “due to the abnormal situation characterized as a biological disaster of dengue epidemic.” [2]. Before that, Moscamed had announced 81% and 100% reduction in the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in at least two localities of Jacobina, claiming that this meant the experiments were a success [3]. According to Oxitec, pilot-scale releases started in the north-west of Jacobina in June 2013 and the programme will roll out across the entire city over two or three years [4].

During the evaluation of the commercial application for the release of the GM mosquito, a CTNBio member had presented a report with information questioning the impact of the GM mosquitoes on the incidence of dengue and warning that in some circumstances the releases could make the disease worse, even if the number of wild Aedes aegypti mosquitoes was reduced.  The concerns raised did not convince the majority of the Commission. The Brazilian National Agency of Sanitary Vigilance (ANVISA) is now in charge of registering and monitoring the product, which according to the company’s recommendation implies weekly releases of 10 million GM mosquitoes for every 50 thousand inhabitants. Meanwhile, the date of publication of the promised results remains unclear.

Brazilian and international civil society organisations, including AS-PTA, Third World Network, RALLT (Network for a GM Free Latin America) and GeneWatch UK, today called on ANVISA to require Oxitec to publish the results of its experiments in a scientific journal and to cease further experiments and the commercial use of this technology until it has assessed the effects on the incidence of dengue and put an effective monitoring programme for the disease in place.

“CTNBio should review its decision to approve commercialization in light of the reality seen in Jacobina and ask for further serious studies on the full implications of releasing the GM mosquito over the local population” said Gabriel Fernandes, from AS-PTA, Brazil.

“Oxitec is knocking on the doors of many countries, promoting its GM mosquitoes as being able to address the serious threat of dengue. Yet, with no concrete proof that this technology is able to reduce dengue incidence, any approval of the GM mosquitoes would be grossly premature,” said Lim Li Ching, Senior Researcher at Third World Network.

“It is extraordinary that experiments with Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes continue and commercial releases have even been approved without any monitoring of the effect on dengue”, said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK “The declaration of a dengue emergency in Jacobina should be a wake-up call for the authorities”.

Notes for Readers:

[1] Reducing the numbers of mosquitoes does not necessarily reduce the incidence of disease as the number of mosquitoes needed to transmit the disease is low. Further, the targetted mosquitoes may simply move to another area and/or a different species of mosquito (Aedes albopictus) which also transmits dengue can move into the area. Complex immune responses to the four types of dengue virus mean that a partial reduction in mosquito numbers can reduce cross-immunity to the different serotypes and increase the number of cases of the severe form of the disease, Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever, which is more likely to be fatal. Success in reducing illness in young children can also mean more delayed and serious cases of dengue. See for example: Thavara, U., Tawatsin, A., & Nagao, Y. (2014). Simulations to compare efficacies of tetravalent dengue vaccines and mosquito vector control. Epidemiology & Infection, 142(06), 1245–1258.

[2] DECRETO Nº 089 de 10 de fevereiro de 2014

[3] Comissão de biossegurança aprova mosquito da dengue transgênico, G1, 11/04/2014. Available at:

[4] Dengue fever. The fastest growing mosquito-borne disease. E-book. Oxitec. January 2014.

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7 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Denae Gemmrig July 8, 2014 at 17:46 - Reply

    I thought science was supposed to gather evidence and perform testing to confirm findings? This is insane to create something that we have no previous knowledge of and test it on the general public. When we will learn???? Whether the results are good or bad we may never know without fair proper testing in the lab. In this case it would be a large lab with a mock village and volunteers. Testing is crucial and even then not 100% certain.

  2. Katherine July 9, 2014 at 17:59 - Reply

    Denae, Even if they performed empirical research there is no guarantee that the evidence is true. One thing I learned while obtaining my degree is that if someone “wants” the evidence to be true they’ll find a way to make it so. True pioneers of research no longer or rarely exist. People are greedy for power and money. Nearly all research is skewed and biased. I don’t trust 99% of what I read.

  3. lchristiana July 10, 2014 at 08:57 - Reply

    Many physicians in tropical areas use the collgen2 generator to produce ics that is used to counteract dengue fever.

  4. Vitor Moreira July 24, 2014 at 00:22 - Reply

    Jacobina had already a high risk of dengue. the trials occured in two neighbourhoods, where the reduction in the mosquitoes population was perceived, as Jacobina has around 40 neighbourhoods, an test, as it was conducted, could not have erradicated the mosquito population of the whole city/region.

  5. Kim October 6, 2014 at 03:12 - Reply

    In 2012 Pakistan eradicated dengue fever by distributing millions of tilapia fingerlings in areas of standing water.

    Tilapia ate the Mosquitos and their larvae.
    Why aren’t others following suit?
    Not only for dengue but malaria, chikungunya, and other mosquito born disease.

    I believe the pharmaceutical industry would rather take in millions for vaccine research than something logical like using fish who eat the source of the disease.

  6. Trisha Springstead January 31, 2015 at 17:47 - Reply

    This is insanity in the making. Come on now they are trying to introduce this into the Florida Keys?
    What could possibly go Wrong? Everything

    • Cathy Sullivan February 16, 2016 at 07:04 - Reply

      Trisha, one year later and the push to release Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes has reached a – excuse the pun – fevered fury. I’ll give you $143 Billion reasons why: The pending sale of Intrexon to ChemChina. Please get the word out!
      Cathy Sullivan

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