GM mosquito trial strains ties in Gates-funded project

| 17/11/2010

(Science/AAAS): About a year ago, genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes were released into the wild—and they have been flying under the world’s radar screen until last week. On 11 November, British company Oxitec announced that it carried out the world’s first small outdoor trial with transgenic Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman in the fall of 2009, followed by a larger study there last summer. The trials were designed to test whether such designer mosquitoes could be successfully used to fight wild mosquitoes that transmit diseases like dengue fever. The announcement, made at a press briefing in London, has taken aback opponents of GM mosquitoes and surprised many researchers in the field of genetic control of insect vectors.

Some are questioning why the company stayed mum for so long, calling it a strategic mistake that provides critics of genetic modification with fresh ammunition. "I don’t think they did themselves a favor," says Bart Knols, a medical entomologist at the University of Amsterdam. "This could well trigger a backlash."

Luke Alphey, chief scientific officer of Oxitec, says he "completely rejects" the notion that there was anything secretive about the trial, which was well-known within the island’s population of 50,000, he says, "but just not picked up internationally."

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Well, this article caught me by surprise.

    I earned my degree in Genetics from a major research university in the States and am quite familiar with various means of genetic modification as well as the pitfalls each measure has.

    I would have been very interested in providing some informed input – no fear-mongering but no undue adulation – but never heard a single call for public comment.

    From reading the Oxitec website it appears the basic approach is to develop a genetically modified strainof mosquito which is dependent upon having some tetracycline (an antibiotic) in its diet. If these genetically modified mosquitoes do not consume tetracycline they die. That’s the way it should work.

    Unfortunately these types of control mechanisms are subject to failure due to random mutations (the same sorts of mutations that occur in any organism). Given a sufficient number of released mosquitoes, the control will fail due to mutation in at least some released mosquitoes.

    So the question becomes what happens when, not if, these control mechanisms fail. Well, the other genes which are introduced along with the genetic control mechanisms would be introduced into the wild type population. The gene for a fluorescent marker derived from coral and/or jellyfish could find its way into the wild mosquito population. That’s it. No giant mutant mosquitoes carrying off our children. Just some bugs that might glow under UV light.



  2. Anonymous says:

    Read all these negative and uniformed post.  Then try real hard to remember that for the past what 20 odd years the way Cayman has (solved?) its mosquito problem is to spray from a plane chemicals that do the same thing to the mosquitos and everything else that breathes the air,drinks the water and comes in contact with everything that was sprayed.  The problem here as with many things on Cayman is not the intelligence of those with solutions its the intelligence of those with none.  If this makes no sense to you don’t worry, be happy.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think you will probably find that most of the oposition to this ‘trial’ is that Cayman is being used as a petri dish with very little information, and certainly no consultation.  Genetically modifying anything and introducing it into the wild is a very emotive subject. The simple reason being that scientists do not know everything that can happen.

      There are a multitude of cases where well intentioned ‘scientific’ descisions have lead to disasterous consequences.

       "Even when all the experts agree, they may well be mistaken"

  3. Libertarian says:


    CNS, this should be Headline!  This experimentation was done without the public’s consent!

  4. Anonymous says:

    There were two articles in the Cayman Compass, from the beginning and during the trials. GIS put out a spotlight release. What do people want? That everybody should be approached indvidually? If people don’t pay attention to the local media, how can they expect to know what is going on.


  5. Caymanian says:

    I wonder what other experiments they are doing without informing the public first!  We are not guinea pigs!

    • Pending says:

      The puppet masters have been experimenting with Mac and his entourage for years… now we are seeing the results.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I did not agree to become a guinea pig for GM mosquitoes

  7. Anonymous says:

    "Luke Alphey, chief scientific officer of Oxitec, says he "completely rejects" the notion that there was anything secretive about the trial, which was well-known within the island’s population of 50,000, he says, "but just not picked up internationally."

    Like hell it was!  So far I can’t find ANYONE who was aware of this prior to it being picked up by the international press.  And NO testing should have taken place without a prior consultation period with the island’s population of 50,000.  

    "A stream of papers and reports has argued that a release of any genetically modified mosquito should be preceded by years of careful groundwork, including an exhaustive public debate to win the hearts and minds of the local population. But little of that has been done in the trial in the Cayman Islands, Alphey says because the government didn’t deem it necessary."

    So it seems our politicians were aware and kept this from us, but why?  And what other nasty little secrets do they keep up their sleeves?

  8. Pending says:

    When were we supposed  to know about this? I haven’t heard or seen anything aboutthis until now.

    I also find it hard to believe that with such a "God Fearing" people as half this island claims  we would allow such practice to occur here i.e. introducing man made animals to combat nature… playing with life etc. 

    This might also explain the size of the mosquitos that are flying around now and the bite that they give! Some of them could be mistaken for small birds.

    • Columbian Martian Powder says:

      Well said Brother Pending!

      I for one am at a total loss! I can’t belive that our government has alowed us to be subject to these monsters! It is a total abomination and is against everything the church stands for!

      May the baby Jesus have mercy on our souls.

      • Anonymous says:

        Apparently, from reports, the mosquitoes that were released don’t bite since they are males.  So, you wouldn’t "catch" anything from a bite.  It seems, the effect of the genetic manipulation would be that the female mosquitoes would bear eggs which do not hatch (which would reduce the mosquito population).  So… unless you are having sex with a mosquito… you would not be "subject to these monsters".


        • Columbian Martian Powder says:

          Well i guess you never saw any of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies!! What happens if one of these mutant mosquitos got into our turtles food chain…? Even if the turtles didn’t grow to be 6ft tall ninjas, I wonder how it would affect us when we consume the mutant turtle meat?

          …Actually West Bay could use a few 6ft tall ninja turtles to clean the crime problem up in the district.

          Kudos to MRCU for thinking ahead and joining in the fight against crime! 


    • Anonymous says:

      The story about the GM mosquitoes is actually no secret and was aired on GIS Spotlight a few weeks ago. IAs a result it was picked up by the international media. Here is the link to the story:

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, no secret after the event, but somehow I think that’s the point we’re all trying to get across: why all the secrecy leading up to and during the event of these mutant mozzies being let loose on Cayman and its resident population?  Why are we only now getting to find out when all advice from appropriate bodies worldwide insist there should be a long and ongoing public consultation prior to any experiments of this nature taking place?  Why are our leaders completely unaware or oblivious to the relevant international regulations, policies and guidance?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I did not know anything about it, and I am not happy that this has been done, what if there are side effects that they dont know about?

  10. Anonymous says:

    I wonder how much they paid the Government to do this study here and to keep it hush-hush!! FOI!!

  11. Retreats Resident says:

    "well known within the island’s population of 50,000.".. Huh? I didn’t get that memo.!

    MRCU are strangely quiet on this issue.?? There’s a fly in the ointment somewhere.!