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IAEA Receives US $3.96 Million from the United States to Boost Fight against Zika-transmitting Mosquitoes

Vienna, Austria

 Aedes Mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue fever, chikungunya, and zika.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will receive a contribution of US $3.96 million from the United States to step up work on a nuclear technique to suppress mosquitoes spreading Zika and other viruses, such as dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

The United States announced the grant at a meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors in Vienna today.   

The U.S. Department of State grant will enable the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to significantly accelerate research and development activities to refine the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT)—an insect birth control method—in order to assist countries affected by Zika.

“IAEA Member States have increasingly requested Agency support to use the SIT in fighting disease-transmitting mosquitoes, particularly as the Zika epidemic continues to spread across continents,” said IAEA Deputy Director General Aldo Malavasi, who heads the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications. “This is therefore a very welcome and timely contribution.”

The project funded by the grant—“Surge Expansion of Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to Control Mosquito Populations that Transmit the Zika Virus”—will be implemented until the end of 2018.

The SIT uses irradiation to sterilize insects in order to suppress pest populations. Sterilized male mosquitoes are mass-reared in special facilities and released in large numbers to mate with wild females. As they do not produce any offspring, populations decrease over time.

The technique, developed by a joint FAO/IAEA division, has been used for decades to successfully fight agricultural pests, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly, and research has been carried out in the last 10 years to use it against mosquitoes.  

The basic elements for mass-rearing sterile mosquitoes—irradiation protocols, efficient diets, and appropriate trays and racks—are already available. The grant will be used for research in other areas, such as developing more efficient sex-separation methods for mosquitoes to support mass rearing on a larger scale and a wider range of strains. The aim is to integrate the SIT into vector management programmes in a safe and sustainable manner.

The geographical areas in which mosquitoes can survive are expanding due to climate change, and vector-borne diseases such as Zika are rapidly spreading.

In the absence of vaccines and efficient, safe and inexpensive drugs to manage such diseases, the control of the vector responsible for their transmission is crucial.

The SIT offers a biologically safe and environmentally friendly technique to help control mosquitoes, complementing other methods. As the SIT is only a sterilization technique, it does not result in alterations to the genome of insects, nor is any radioactivity transferred to the irradiated insects. Furthermore, suppressing insect populations through sterilization reduces the need for pesticides, providing environmental and human health benefits.

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