Tuesday July 23, 2019

Company combating Zika virus attracts praise

0
//

Mexico city: Oxitec, British biotechnology company which breeds genetically modified(GM) insects to combat the spread of diseases such as dengue and the Zika virus, is in attention from all across the world.

Oxitec releases GM male mosquitoes with a self-limiting gene, essentially rendering them sterile and causing any offspring to die before they reach adulthood, Xinhua reported.

In trials around the world, including the Brazilian city of Piracicaba, Oxitec claims to have wiped out over 90 percent of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Given that this pesky critter is the main carrier and transmitter of Zika, chikungunya and dengue, this has led to a spike in interest in Oxitec’s methods.

Hadyn Parry, CEO of Oxitec, said “Our mosquitoes do not impact the disease; we just reduce the number of mosquitoes. You get Zika, dengue or chikungunya by being bitten by a mosquito carrying that disease. No mosquito means no disease, less mosquitoes means less disease,” he said.

Both the US and Brazil confirmed that the Zika virus had been propagated by sexual transmission and blood transfusion.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus only remains in the bloodstream for a few weeks, meaning that eradicating mosquito populations would remove the threat of other types of transmission.

Despite this seemingly positive impact, the rollout of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes in Latin America to date has been limited. The city of Piracicaba, in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, which saw a trial release of Oxitec’s mosquitoes in 2015, is expanding the project to cover about 60,000 people.

According to statistics provided by Oxitec, the city saw 133 cases of dengue in 2014 and the beginning of 2015. This was cut down to just one for the rest of 2015 after the Oxitec trial began.

However, the release of further Oxitec GM mosquitoes across the country faces a major obstacle. While Brazil’s regulator for GM organisms has stated Oxitec’s product poses no risk, final approval is needed by the Health Ministry before commercialisation can begin.

“But to market and sell our product, we need an authorisation from the Ministry of Health. We think we are very close to getting that authorisation,” said Parry.

That decision would not just impact Oxitec’s operations in Brazil but would determine if and when its GM mosquitoes could be released in other countries.

“Once Brazil approves us, I do not think we will see a similar time frame in other Latin American countries,” the executive said.

“This mosquito is the same species all around the world, our product is exactly the same, and a lot of Latin American cities are very similar.”

However, should a country decide that certain differentiating factors warrant extra processes, Oxitec said it will be happy to carry out extra studies.

Parry said many countries and private companies are collaborating to develop a vaccine but such a solution may be slow.

A final hurdle for Oxitec has been the controversies that have grown around their methods. A cursory search on the internet turns up a number of articles, questioning or outright blaming Oxitec and its GM mosquitoes.

While thorough questioning of scientific practices is welcome, especially for as important a topic as GM organisms, Parry said some of the circulating accusations are false and can affect lives.

“The WHO and Brazilian regulators have examined our technology and found no significant risk,” he said. “However, if anyone has real evidence, or even a hypothesis to test out, they should come forward as that will be good for the debate.”(IANS)

Next Story

European Union Opening New Front in Its Quest to More Closely Regulate Big Tech Companies

In addition to selling its own products, Amazon also allows third-party retailers to sell their goods through its site

0
FILE - Caption European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager addresses a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Jan.11, 2016, after the EU demanded Monday that Belgium recover millions of euros from 35 large companies in back taxes. VOA

The European Union is opening a new front in its quest to more closely regulate big tech companies, saying Wednesday it was investigating whether U.S. online giant Amazon uses data from independent retailers to gain an illegal edge when selling its own products.

EU antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she is taking a “very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

In addition to selling its own products, Amazon also allows third-party retailers to sell their goods through its site. Last year, more than half of the items sold on Amazon worldwide were from third-party sellers.

The EU opened a preliminary probe into the issue last year, and Vestager said it has shown that “Amazon appears to use competitively sensitive information — about marketplace sellers, their products and transactions on the marketplace.” Using the information could give it an unfair competitive edge.

European Union, Technology, Companies
The European Union is opening a new front in its quest to more closely regulate big tech companies, saying Wednesday it was investigating. Pixabay

In a parallel case, Germany’s competition regulator said Wednesday that Amazon was changing some of its business conditions for traders on its online marketplace worldwide after it raised concerns about some terms. The regulator said that the changes affect a range of issues such as a one-sided exemption from liability to Amazon’s benefit as well as the place of jurisdiction for disputes.

Other EU countries like Austria, Luxembourg and Italy are also independently investigating Amazon but EU spokeswoman Lucia Caudet said the national probes did not overlap with the EU investigation.

Amazon said it would cooperate with the EU authorities, according to media reports.

The EU’s investigations into major companies like Amazon have led the way in a global push to more tightly regulate tech giants, as many governments wonder if they are becoming too big for the good of the wider economy.

Also Read- US House Block Administration from Selling Billions of Dollars in Weapons to Saudi Arabia

Among the key questions are not only whether the tech giants abuse their market dominance to choke off competition, potentially stifling choice for consumers, but also whether they are adequately protecting users data and paying their fair share of taxes in countries where they operate.

Tech companies do huge business across Europe but pay taxes only in the EU nation where their local headquarters are based, often a low-tax haven like Luxembourg or the Netherlands. The result is they pay a far lower rate than traditional businesses. France has tried to address the problem by unilaterally imposing a 3% tax on big tech companies’ revenue in the country. The U.S. government is not happy about that and finance ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy countries will discuss the issue this week in Paris.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President elect who should take up her role in November, has said she will try to be more vigilant to make sure such companies pay enough taxes.

European Union, Technology, Companies
EU antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she is taking a “very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer. Pixabay

Amazon has already been the target of previous EU investigations. Two years ago, officials ordered it to pay $295 million in back taxes to Luxembourg after finding that the company profited from a tax avoidance deal with the tiny European country. EU officials also investigated Amazon’s e-book business.

Also Read- Buzz Aldrin Recalls the First Moments of Apollo 11 Launch

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee is investigating the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. Congress is this week holding a two-day hearing on Facebook’s plan to create a digital currency, Libra, which governments in the U.S. and Europe have been skeptical about. (VOA)