GM mosquito release not transparent, say scientists

| 02/02/2012

mozz eggs_0.JPG(CNS): A group of independent scientists say that the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil was not sufficiently transparent or properly regulated which risks undermining the research of what they say is promising technology. The German scientists published a paper on Monday based on their analysis of the insect release which found a deficit in the scientific quality of regulatory documents and a general absence of accurate experimental descriptions available to the public before the release started. 

A  team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany said that accurate scientific information about “designer insect” releases is being highly restricted throughout the world, especially before those releases begin.

Genetically modified mosquitoes were released in EAst End on Grand Cayman in 2009 as part of a research study on the eradication of dengue fever by the UK-based company Oxitec in partnership with the Mosquito Research and Control Unit. Although there was some local notification in the district and a GIS TV programme was produced about the release the experiment remained very low profile with very little information about the project in the public domain.

The independent scientists said in their report that the possibility of the GM insects’ offspring biting humans was never addressed. The pointed out that the males were partly and not completely sterile, despite claims to the contrary, and as a result this obvious question was conspicuously ignored despite the probability that the transgenic daughters of the released males will bite humans.

However, the German scientists explained that this did not mean the technology was inherently dangerous but it would impact public confidence in regulators if the discussion of scientifically plausible concerns are absent. The analysis found no publically available documents that scientifically considered possible human health impacts of being bitten by transgenic females.

The independent scientists argued in their paper for transparency to help promote acceptance of what they said was promising technology.

During the research into the Cayman Islands release it was established that there was no enacted legislation relating to either the release or transportation of the living genetically modified organisms.

Bill Petrie the director of the MCRU told CNS recently that said that the unit had to obtain a permit from the Department of Agriculture for the importation of the mosquito eggs and release of the progeny. He also stated that the Department of Environment was also consulted.

The scientists noted however that community engagement and consent for such a project requires greater transparency. The report said that the general lack of accurate available information before starting the release was disappointing as it should have been widely circulated before the experiment. The need for high-quality community engagement, particularly in early releases, has repeatedly been argued as essential by expert scientists.

“It is rather uncontroversial to state that in the absence of meaningful and accurate descriptions being made widely available, communityengagement cannot credibly be said to have occurred,"‘ said Dr Guy Reeves one of the scientists from the Max Planck Institute. “If those that conducted the trials cannot produce pre-release written descriptions, then they need to explicitly state why meaningful community engagement and consent might not be necessary for experimental releases into towns and cities.”

The scientists said in their paper that given the enormous human burden of diseases like dengue fever and crop loss from insect attack it is important that new control techniques are developed and that field trials are essential.

"However, we need an informed public to ensure that experimental testing of this potentially valuable technology can be given a fair chance and that testing does not needlessly provoke public mistrust,”added Reeves.

He said that avoiding the kind of questionable practices which characterized the commercial development of genetically modified plant is likely to be important in this area of research.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:


    The link to original article by the scientists, which is intended to be understood by the general public is freely available at



    Three other articles on the same subject are also published  in the same issue of the journal (including  one from Oxitec)

  2. Anonymous says:

    What is an "independent" scientist? Is that a scientific term?

    • Green Hornet says:

      One not being paid by the company doing whichever project it is that they are monitoring. Duh!