OxiTec

Totally Buggin’

Oxitec, a British biotech company, is keeping an eye on potential agriculture applications as it helps mitigate mosquito-borne diseases through scientific advancements.

The backdrop: In test mode, the company released thousands of genetically-modified (GM) male mosquito eggs in the Florida Keys that carry a “self-limiting” gene that targets and kills future female mosquitos, the main disease spreaders.

The mosquito, Aedes aegypti, makes up only 4% of all mosquitos in the Keys but is the source of virtually all disease transmission. Small, but mighty … mighty terrible.

Promising: In Brazil, trials of the GM mosquito showed a 95% population suppression in under three months.

Neat, but what does this mean for agriculture?

A lot.

In New York, Oxitec successfully released GM diamondback moths (lovers of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli). The moths have become resistant to insecticides and cause $4-5 billion of crop damage a year worldwide.

And in Brazil, Bayer and Oxitec teamed up to battle the fall armyworm, which feasts on corn and 350 other plants.

They’re also looking to slow down soybean loopers, which wreak havoc on soybeans, cotton, and corn.

What’s ahead: While ag usage is still in early development and testing stages, once they work out the bugs, many are hopeful Oxitec can lead a new wave of environmentally-friendly solutions for crop protection.