Environmentalists stop planned GM mozzie trial

| 04/01/2011

(CNS): Although Cayman was at the centre of what has become controversial research involving the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in to the wild, a similar trial in Malaysia has now beendelayed. The trial which is part of a project to combat dengue fever has been put off in the Asian country following protests from environmentalists. After the success of the trials in Grand Cayman the firm developing the GM mosquitoes was hoping to release the insects in Asia where the dengue virus is present. Some 4,000-6,000 modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were scheduled to be released but due to fears that the GM mosquito could fail to prevent dengue and have unintended consequences the government has call off the test.

The GM mosquitoes have been engineered so that their offspring quickly die, curbing the growth of the population in a technique researchers hope could eventually eradicate the mosquito altogether and eliminate the dangerous dengue fever. Although the Aedes species which is responsible for spreading dengue does not carry the virus in Cayman the mosquito is present here hence why the islands were selected for the first part of the trial.

During the Cayman trial millions of the “mutant mozzies” as they have been dubbed were released into the wild in the district of East End. The project was recently described as an act of colonialism by GeneWatch an international NGS. The organisation, which investigates how genetic technologies will impact food, health, agriculture, environment and society, said Oxitec, the company carrying out the trial here in Cayman, had misleadingly claimed the mosquitoes released were sterile. The activists also accused the bio-firm of not carrying out ethical oversight before using Cayman for the trials.

Despite the environmentalists concerns local mosquito boss Bill Petrie the director of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit said the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Grand Cayman posed no threat to people. He explained that the males don’t live very long so the trans-gene that they possess doesn’t persist in the environment.

The experiment revealed that by August a few months after the first GM insects were released in May the population had fallen by 80 percent, compared with a neighbouring area where no sterile male mosquitoes were released.

With the Cayman trial revealing promising results the ‘mutant mozzie’ was due to be released where the female mosquito is carrying dengue fever in Malaysia.

Oxitec, which is a spin-out company from Oxford University, insists that its GM mosquitoes are environmentally benign and represent the only hope of rolling back the global advance of dengue-infected mosquitoes.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    Makes me wonder what will happen to the animals that eat the mosquitoes. I’m thinking of bats, frogs, lizards, spiders and others. If their food source is reduced due to this program, surely their populations will be adversely affected and this could lead to additional disruptions in the food chain.