GM Mozzies didn’t linger says Cayman control unit

| 13/01/2012

mozz eggs.JPG(CNS): Fears that genetically modified mosquitoes had bred and produced surviving offspring in the local population of insects are unfounded the director of Cayman’s Mosquito Research & Control Unit has said. Bill Petrie said that after the research study in Cayman undertaken by Oxitec the mosquitoes did not persist in the environment and there was a significant reduction in the local population of the pest. A report revealed by Genewatch UK and other activist NGOs this week showed that not all of the GM mosquitoes used by the UK firm were actually sterile as claimed by the company and their offspring had survived and mixed with local populations.

“We monitored the mosquito population very thoroughly for several months after the pilot study was conducted, and found an initial reduction in the population of around 80 percent,” Petrie said. “This suppression of the population was sustained for some considerable time. These data refute any allegation that the released mosquitoes persisted in the environment.” He added that during the Grand Cayman pilot study which took place in East End only male mosquitoes, which were sterile and that cannot bite were released.

Petrie said that some of the claims by Genewatch and Friends of the Earth were inaccurate in particular regarding the lack of regulations for bio-study in Cayman as Petrie said the unit had to obtain a permit from the Department of Agriculture for the importation of the mosquito eggs and release of the progeny which he said was obtained after discussions on the rationale behind the pilot study.
“We also consulted with Department of Environment to address any concerns they might have had,” Petrie added.

In the wake of the release of the report and the concerns raised by the charities and activist organisations Oxitec the British company currently undertaking the trials in an effort to find a way to eradicate dengue fever said the charities had made inaccurate assertions about Oxitec's motives, “process and technology with the purpose of causing anxiety” in relation to the on-going research.

“Oxitec was founded with the purpose of finding better ways to combat diseases spread by insects rather than wholesale reliance on toxic and broad spectrum insecticides,” the firm stated in a release on Thursday. “Dengue is an intractable disease spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that affects more than 50 million people annually, mostly in dense urban environments.  There is neither medication nor vaccine for this disease.”
It said it was using genetically engineered 'sterile' males resulting in non-viable offspring and the research could potentially become an important new tool in combating the mosquitoes that spread disease.

“The institutions who determine the acceptability of any new public health technology are that nation's regulators.  By causing unfounded anxiety outside of the regulatory process, inexpert commentators risk consigning more than 50 million people to "breakbone" flu,” Oxitec charged the charities.

It said the allegations about the study which is already five years old and are extremely misleading. In one laboratory experiment a high level of survival of the mosquitoes in the apparent absence of tetracycline was found which Oxitec said was a strange result.

“We and they investigated and found the food they used for the mosquitoes was contaminated with tetracycline.  While this was a clear case of contamination we have, ofcourse, carried out dose-response studies to determine whether the tetracycline levels that can be found in the environment are likely to lead to survival of our mosquitoes.  While tetracycline can be found in the environment in isolated areas it is not present in sufficient quantity to ensure survival of the mosquitoes,” the firm stated.

Oxitec also denied using poor regions as its laboratory for genetically modified mosquitoes and said that the insinuation that the firm was targeting exploitable populations was “irksome and patronising” as dengue is associated with tropical climate and about two fifths of the world population are at risk as it accused the NGOs of undermining the chance of a real solution to dengue.

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Comments (15)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Can't wait for the "techy" park. You folks are really going to freak out if actual science comes to town.

  2. Bling man says:

    So who ya gonna call?    Mebbe Ghostbusters has a moskeeta  division.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “A report revealed by Genewatch UK and other activist NGOs this week showed that not all of the GM mosquitoes used by the UK firm were actually sterile as claimed by the company and their offspring had survived and mixed with local populations.” – Again, which report? Certainly not the one the previous article mentioned. Do you actually have a report that makes this assertion for the Cayman Islands or is someone merely making broad claims unsubstantiated by facts?

    As the rest of your article makes clear, the problem results did not relate to the Cayman based experiment. Why continue to conflate the two?

  4. Wait a Minute! says:

    And how does the director of Cayman’s Mosquito Research & Control Unit, Bill Petrie, know that Oxitec isn't hiding something? Oxitex will do experiments to get a name. It is not a government entity. They don't care about people in third world countries. Why do you think the experiments were not conducted in the UK???  Think for a moment…  Because many in the UK really know what they are all about! For Oxitec to conduct its experiments in places like Cayman and third world countries itmust come up with socall good reasons to do so.  Sorry, Bill, nothing personal, but I think you know nothing about companies seeking to get a name and feeding you with false information…… What is more disturbing, the public should have been notified way in advance before the experiment taking place?  Our government leaders said nothing, and this is more reasons why you would have Bill and others defending Oxitec because they just want to patch things up.  Sorry, we are not so stupid like you think.  

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful.    Everything is okeydokey.    Please feel free to introduce any other genetically-modified organisms in our closed environment.   After all, there's only 50,000 of us to kill if things go wrong.   

    In case the sarcasm was missed, WHY doesn't this British company release the GM mosquitos in England, if they're so safe?    Oh, right, I forgot — no bluidy mosquitos there, mate, we're on our way to release them on the Yanks in Florida.   Goodie for us…….. there's money to be made and if we should happen to screw up and begin a biological hell in the States, well………. oops.   Cheerio.  

    In case THAT sarcasm was missed…….  consider that Sterile Insect Technology (SIT) was created in the 50's.   YES, there have been positive advances, mostly with insects that the males are easily differentiated.    Well, guess what?   These mosquitos are EXPERIMENTAL!   How's that make you feel?   warm and fuzzy and cared for?   Or like a lab monkey?   No, I don't want dengue fever, or west nile virus or any other mosquito-borne disease.   I also don't want an untested bio-soup running amok in my environment.     These SIT female-specific strains of  Aedes aegypti are SUPPOSED to produce no female progengy — otherwise, the females have to be separated mechanically, which is only possible with some insects, as noted above. 

    Yes, I'm mad as hell.     I understand the good intentions behind these experiments — people all over the world die in horrific numbers from insect-born diseases.   Oxitech, can you guarantee that the indiginous species (bats, birds) that eat these mosquitos will NEVER be adversely affected?    If yes, does that carry the same weight as your guarantee that all of your released mosquitos were sterile?  


  6. Absurdistani says:

    Hmmmm. Yes but how do we really know the world resolves around the sun? I mean, are we REALLY sure? 🙂

  7. Anonymous says:

    Let's pretend McKeeva suggested this, or even Dart.  Suppose one of them had toured a lab and heard that these mosquitos could help us and then MRCU went along with it.

    Would CNS print a similar second article on this matter which provides so much detailed helpful information aimed at assuaging the people's fears and trusting the scientists?

    CNS would be leading the call for a public inquiry.  It's just that you guys are human- and I rather like your site, but your bias is sometimes a bit obvious.  

  8. Anonymous says:

    You guys are riled up over nothing

  9. Green Hornet says:

    Yup, not to worry, folks. We had all those unemployed Caymanians out counting every single mosquito 12 hours a day for 3 months. And they didn't find a single one of the genetically altered ones anywhere. Honest. And we know for asbolute certainty that there are absolutely NO long term effects of genetically altered flora and fauna. We've been studying it for at least 10 years, maybe even 12, so how could there be?

  10. Whodatis says:

    Of course, at times like this everything is always fine until it is not.

    The best plan of action is always to avoid the potential for disaster in the first place.

    End of story.

    * Genetically modified mosquitos? Really?! Come on man!

    Suddenly we have a dim view of the MRCU. You guys are there to perform a specific task – not to entertain the wet dreams of some money-crazed and potentially 'mad' scientist(s).

  11. anonymous says:

    …and who checked each and everyone of those mosquitoes to know that only males were released?? Come on guys…you really do not know. You may have circumstantial evidence but you do not KNOW. 

  12. My2cents says:

    Thank you Mr. Petrie for putting the record straight. It is refreshing to hear from someone who actually has a first-hand technical knowledge of the matter, rather than these half-educated dimwits who feel qualified to spout an opinion.

  13. Anonymous says:

    why can't we just introduce breeding monkeys to Cayman?  They would swat all the mosquitoes (regular and frankenstein), and who doesn't like a monkey?  They're adorable!

  14. Anonymous says:

    oh good! everything is ok.