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Dispatches from the ground.

Mosquito menace

In Maharashtra, a high security prison for genetically modified mosquitoes

Mahyco is one of India’s oldest hybrid seed companies. Its research facility in a village near Aurangabad in Maharashtra is packed with all the equipment needed to grow and test seedlings, from protein mixers to UV labs. And then, tucked into a corner of the facility are electric bats, like the one in the picture above, normally used to kill mosquitoes.

It’s not that Mahyco has a mosquito problem.

Further down the corridor is India’s only research centre for genetically modified mosquitoes.

Run by Gangabishan Bhikulal Investment and Trading, a sister concern of Mahyco, the company that partners with Monsanto to develop genetically modified cotton in India, the centre's research into genetically modified mosquitoes is aimed at combating dengue.

When granting approval for the lab in 2008, the Department of Biotechnology instructed GBIT to take appropriate measures to ensure their modified mosquitoes do not escape.

To escape, a mosquito will have to break through a fine net at the opening of its sealed plastic box where it lives most of its life, pass through four doors, meander down to the end of a dull windowless corridor, at the end of which is a door that leads to freedom.

Closed doors and windows are nothing to the determined insect. Hence, the bats.

Each of the three outer rooms that one must pass through to access the sanctum of mosquito cages comes with its own electric bat near the wall. This too, researchers at the facility say, is a requirement of the Department of Biotechnology. If any mosquito escapes, they are instructed to kill them.

None have, so far, researchers say.

While the lab and its technicians are Indian, the technology has been developed by Oxitec, a company set up in the United Kingdom to commercially promote research produced at Oxford University.

Their aim is to reduce the spread of dengue. The problem, in their view, is simple. Female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread the dengue virus. If the virus cannot be controlled by vaccines, the next logical target to reduce the incidence of the disease are the carriers of the virus.

This has indeed been the solution of public health systems until now. In the absence of effective preventive medicine, the most prominent approaches have focussed on controlling mosquito populations by limiting their breeding grounds – removing stagnant pools of water.

But instead of making mosquito reproduction inconvenient, Oxitec’s technology wants to make it impossible.

With their technology, male mosquitoes of the Aedes aegypti species will be genetically modified to carry a “kill switch” gene. When passed on to their offspring, the gene will ensure that they do not survive into adulthood.

Given that the life span of mosquitoes is only a matter of weeks, the modification could reduce mosquito population within months.

But this throws up ethical and scientific issues. What happens if female mosquitoes adapt and avoid mating with modified males? What are the implications of eradicating an entire species of mosquitoes?

“Aedes aegypti is an invasive species that is not native to India,” said Dr SK Dasgupta, the lead scientist working on this project. “So its loss will not affect the food chain here. We can reduce their population to the extent that the disease does not spread.”

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What to look for when buying your first car in India

Hint: It doesn’t have to be a small car.

When it comes to buying their first car, more Indians are making unconventional choices. Indian car buyers in 2016 are looking for an automobile that is a symbol of their aspirations and sets them apart from the herd. Here are a few things you should consider when buying your first car:

Look beyond small cars

According to the JD Power India Escaped Study (2015), the percentage of new-vehicle shoppers who considered a small car reduced by 20% over three years—from 65% to 45%. Buyers are now looking at bigger, affordable cars and luckily for them, there are more choices available. Known as compact sedans, these cars offer the features of a sedan, are larger than hatchbacks and contain a boot. These sedans offer the comfort and features that once only belonged to expensive luxury cars but at a price that’s within the reach of a first-time car buyer.

Design and styling is important but don’t forget utility.

It’s a good idea to have a car that has been designed over the past three years and doesn’t look outdated. Features like alloy wheels and dual beam headlamps add to the style quotient of your vehicle so consider those. Additionally, look for a car with a sturdy build quality since Indian urban conditions may not always be kind to your car and may furnish it with scrapes and dents along the way.

Image Credit: Volkswagen
Image Credit: Volkswagen

Does it test-drive well?

In 2014, 35% of new-vehicle buyers researched vehicles when they were buying but by 2015, this number had risen to nearly 41% according to the JD Power study. While the internet is the primary source of research in India, the best source of information about a car is always a test drive. Listen to the sales person and read all online reviews, but test every feature to your satisfaction.

Where do you plan to drive?

Look for a car that’s spacious and comfortable while being easy to drive or park on our crowded city roads. Compact sedans are perfectly suited for Indian driving conditions. Some of them come with parking assistance and rear view cameras, rain sensors and front fog lights with static cornering that are excellent driving aids. If you plan to use the car for long drives, compact sedans that provide cruise control, a tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel and a front centre armrest would be perfect. On road trips with family members who usually pack more than necessary, extra elbow room inside and good boot-space is a blessing.

Is the model about to be discontinued?

Never buy a model that is going to be discontinued because it could result in difficulty finding spare parts. Buying an old model will also affect your resale value later. In 2015, according to the same report, 10% of shoppers considered newly launched car models as against 7% in 2013—a strong indication that newer models are being preferred to old ones.

Diesel or petrol?

Diesel and petrol cars have different advantages, and it’s best to take a decision based on the distance you plan to drive on a regular basis. While petrol cars are usually priced lower and are more cost effective when it comes to service and maintenance, diesel cars typically have better mileage due to higher efficiency and provide a smoother drive due to higher torque. Additionally, diesel is the cheaper fuel. So it makes more economic sense to buy a diesel car if you are driving long distances every day.

Most importantly, safety always comes first.

Look for a car that is built sturdy and pays extra attention to safety features like Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), side impact bars and dual front airbags. Safety is also a function of the design and features such as a galvanized steel body add to the strength of the build. It’s important to remember not to make trade-offs on safety for less important features when choosing variants.

Buying your first car is an important milestone in life. And the new Volkswagen Ameo has been designed with several first-in-segment features to cater to all the needs of a first-time car buyer in India. Its bold design and elegant styling along with state-of-the-art features like cruise control, reverse parking camera and sensors, and intelligent rain sensors set it apart from other cars in its class. Its safety features are also a notch above, with dual front airbags that are standard in every variant and side impact bars. A sturdy galvanized steel body and laser welded roof cocoon its passengers from harm, and its modern ABS, that is also standard in all variants, prevents the wheels from locking when you brake hard. A six-year perforation warranty and a three-year paint warranty ensure that the car body is protected from scratches and dents. The Ameo comes in both petrol and diesel variants. Check out all the features of the Ameo here. Also hear the experience of two first time car buyers in the video below.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Volkswagen and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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