Zika Virus Cause: GMO Mosquitoes Triggered Brazil Outbreak? Altered Mosquitoes Released in 2012 -- Details

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Feb 01, 2016 04:30 AM EST

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JANUARY, 29: Health agent performs collection and analysis of larvae that cause the mosquito Aedes Egypti in pots and plants in the Butanta residential neighborhood on January 29, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. According to the City Department of Health, the city of Sao Paulo has not yet submitted cases of microcephaly associated with mosquito bites. Since October, Brazil has recorded 3,893 suspected cases of the birth defect - which can lead to stillbirths, as well as long-lasting developmental and health problems among survivors. (Photo : Victor Moriyama/Getty Images )

The Zika virus spreading in Brazil might have been triggered by experiments done among mosquitoes in 2012. The conspiracy theory stemmed from a post circulating on Reddit.

In 2012, biotech firm Oxitec headed the experiment and released genetically modified mosquitoes in affected areas in the tropical region in the hopes of finding a cure for malaria, dengue and chikungunya (yellow fever). It aimed to render male mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti species sterile so that it will result in two things: mating with the female species would not produce offspring, or the offspring would die before it could mature. The experiment hoped to decrease the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

However, the conspiracy theory assumed that some four percent of the genetically-altered mosquito larvae could have survived the mutation and have reproduced and passed on their genes to their offspring. It also pointed out that the experiment didn't go through adequate research before the mosquitoes were released in the environment.

The project drew some flack and other experts raised their concerns and questions when it was first announced. They cited that the experiment could do more harm than good for the environment.

"They are pushing ahead to commercialize their approach so they can start paying back their investors," said Dr. Helen Wallace via The Guardian. "I would be happier if there were more experiments in controlled areas, caged areas and labs, before general release in the populated areas."

Four year later, the criticisms and conspiracy theories have once again made headlines. Oxitec head Hadyn Parry defended the company's initiatives and called the accusations as "simply untrue," Daily Mail reported.

"All vector control solutions - insecticides, traps, and 'sterile' mosquitoes get deployed in areas with a high incidence of disease to help stop the spread of the disease at its source," Parry said. "The fewer the mosquitoes, the lower the risk of disease. Our approach has proven to be more effective than the alternatives with a lower environmental impact."

Bloomberg reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States is in the middle of reviewing a trial that Oxitec wants to do in Florida. However, some analysts and environmental advocates are concerned about its repercussions. "They're introducing into the ecosystem some genetic constructs that have never been there before," said Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety in the report.

Meanwhile, Brazil continues to work with Oxitec and has even expanded its genetically-modified mosquito experiments this year, Latinos Health previously reported.

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