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PUDUCHERRY : The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s research centre in Puducherry has developed a technology to produce Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti strain VCRC B-17), a strain of bacteria that kills mosquito and black fly larvae without harming other animals.

The Bti bacteria has been in use for decades for mosquito control and is considered safe for other animals and the environment.

Dr Ashwani Kumar, director of ICMR’s Vector Control Research Centre, said, “The uniqueness is that it kills only mosquito and blackfly larvae and harms no other insects, aquatic fauna or mammals. VCRC’s Bti technology is equivalent to the WHO standard strain of bacteria in terms of its effectiveness. Our Bti B-17 strain is extensively tested and is now designated as the Indian Standard strain by the Central Insecticide Board of India. So far, this technology has been licensed to 21 companies."

The commercial production of Bti is a shot in the arm for India’s fight against vector-borne diseases such as malaria, filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya and zika.

Last month, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya handed over the Bti technology to Hindustan Insecticides Ltd for commercial production and use in India.

The state-run company plans to export the Bti bio-larvicides to tropical and sub-tropical regions burdened by mosquito-borne diseases and black flies, which transmit river blindness in African countries.

Experts said mosquito control programmes relied heavily on chemical insecticides for almost a century. “Apart from environmental concerns, the development of resistance to chemical insecticides in mosquitoes and black flies is a major impediment to their control and the diseases transmitted by these vectors. Hence in recent times, the focus has been shifted to the use of biocontrol agents such as Bti," Dr Kumar said.

This mosquito larvicidal activity of Bti is due to a toxin present in the bacterium. When ingested by mosquito larvae, the bacterial toxins destroy their gut within 10-30 minutes upon ingestion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than 700,000 deaths annually. They can be caused by parasites, bacteria or viruses.

The estimated market size for Bti technology is about 1,000 crore annually in India.

“The VCRC Bti will make India self-reliant and save foreign exchange and people from vector-borne diseases," said Dr S. L. Hoti, one of the inventors of the technology.

India has reported 10,172 dengue cases with three deaths till May, according to the health ministry. Around 1,554 cases of chikungunya were reported till June this year, while 21,558 malaria cases and four deaths were reported till April.

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