Tech­no­log­i­cal fixes

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

BU­TAN­TAN IN­STI­TUTE in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is the world's lead­ing re­search cen­tre on the Zika virus. The in­sti­tute is plan­ning to de­velop a vac­cine but has warned that it may take up to five years. Bri­tish drug­maker Glax­oSmithK­line and French com­pany Sanofi have said they are check­ing the fea­si­bil­ity of us­ing ex­ist­ing tech­nolo­gies to limit to spread of the virus. There are sev­eral other vac­cines for viruses of the same fam­ily, like dengue, be­ing de­vel­oped world­wide. Ex­perts say that they may be help­ful in con­tain­ing Zika too.

Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech Ltd has claimed to have made a vac­cine. The In­dian Coun­cil of Med­i­cal Re­search (ICMR) plans to in­vite them for more in­for­ma­tion, says ICMR Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Soumya Swami­nathan. Once the vac­cine is ap­proved, its tri­als on an­i­mals and hu­mans will be done.

Some com­pa­nies, such as the UK-based firm Ox­itec Ltd, are also con­sid­er­ing the use of ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies for vec­tor­con­trol to check the spread of the virus. The con­cept in­volves en­gi­neer­ing male Aedesa­e­gypti in such a way that the mos­quito's off­springs die be­fore reach­ing ma­tu­rity. This has al­ready been used com­mer­cially in Brazil in 2014. Ox­itec ran tri­als of their ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) mos­qui­toes in an area in Brazil where Zika is now par­tic­u­larly preva­lent. This has now caused a con­tro­versy with some say­ing that the GM mos­qui­toes are now re­spon­si­ble for spread­ing the Zika virus. But oth­ers re­fute this."With­out both data and a causal ex­pla­na­tion, there is no ev­i­dence—or even plau­si­ble grounds for ev­i­dence—that the tri­als were in any way re­lated to the out­break," says An­drew D May­nard, Di­rec­tor, Risk In­no­va­tion Lab, Ari­zona State Univer­sity, USA.

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