Saturday November 16, 2019

Company combating Zika virus attracts praise

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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)

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Centre Opens up Fuel Retail Policy by Allowing All Companies to Enter Fuel Retail Segment

It will also allow corporares running convenience stores, shopping malls and hypermarkets to sell fuel as is the case in developed countries such as the US

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Fuel, Retail, Companies
The development is expected to usher in investments from global giants such as Aramco, Total, Trafigura and other foreign players. Pixabay

The Centre on Wednesday liberalised its fuel retail policy by allowing all companies to enter the fuel retail segment.

Till now only companies with hydrocarbon experience and having committed investment of Rs 2,000 crore in India’s oil and gas sector were allowed to enter the fuel retail segment. Now, any corporate entity with a net worth of just Rs 250 crore can get fuel marketing rights.

The development is expected to usher in investments from global giants such as Aramco, Total, Trafigura and other foreign players. It will also allow corporares running convenience stores, shopping malls and hypermarkets to sell fuel as is the case in developed countries such as the US and UK.

“It (policy) has now been revised to bring it in line with the changing market dynamics and with a view to encouraging investment from private players, including foreign players, in this sector,” the CCEA said in a statement.

Fuel, Retail, Companies
Till now only companies with hydrocarbon experience and having committed investment of Rs 2,000 crore in India’s oil and gas sector were allowed to enter the fuel retail segment. Pixabay

“The new policy will give a fillip to “Ease of Doing Business”, with transparent policy guidelines. It will boost direct and indirect employment in the sector. Setting up of more retail outlets (ROs) will result in better competition and better services for consumers.”

Consequently, the entities seeking authorisation would need to have a minimum net worth of Rs 250 crore vis-A-vis the current requirement of Rs 2,000 crore prior investment.

Even the requirement of prior investment in oil and gas sector, mainly in exploration and production, refining, pipelines or terminals have been done away with, thereby inviting non-oil companies to also invest in the retail sector.

The fuel under consideration of the revised policy includes petroleum, diesel, LNG and CNG.

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“In addition to conventional fuels, the authorized entities are required to install facilities for marketing at least one new generation alternate fuel, like CNG, LNG, biofuels, electric charging, etc. at their proposed retail outlets within 3 years of operationalization of the said outlet,” the statement said.

“More private players, including foreign players, are expected to invest in retail fuel marketing leading to better competition and better services for consumers.”

As per the statement, entities would be required to set up minimum 5 per cent of the total retail outlets in the notified remote areas within five years of grant of authorisation.

“A robust monitoring mechanism has been set up to monitor this obligation,” the statement said.

Fuel, Retail, Companies
Now, any corporate entity with a net worth of just Rs 250 crore can get fuel marketing rights. Pixabay

“An individual may be allowed to obtain dealership of more than one marketing company in case of open dealerships of PSU OMCs but at different sites.”

The current policy for granting authorisation to market transportation fuels had not undergone any changes for the last 17 years since 2002.

Meanwhile, several overseas companies had explored the potential but no investment has been made so far.

India has emerged as a key driver of global oil demand. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the country to account for a quarter of global energy use by 2040.

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Companies, including Reliance Industries, RoyalDutch Shell and Nayara Energy, part owned by Russian oil major Rosneft account for about 10 per cent of the 64,625 fuel stations in the country, according to data posted on the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC). (IANS)