UK charity warns of more risks over GM mosquitos

| 29/01/2014

(CNS): Plans to release millions of GM mosquitoes in Panama, produced by the UK-based Oxitec, which released the lab created insects in Grand Cayman several years ago, have been criticised by the UK-based NGO GeneWatch as they say the public has not been informed about the risks. Not unlike the project in the Cayman Islands, where the modified male mosquitoes were released in East End with little explanation to residents, GeneWatch said no information about the possible downsides of the experiments has been provided to the people living where the insects are due to be released next month. While Oxitec has denied any risk, the NGO said it now has documents that show this is untrue.

GeneWatch has also released a draft risk assessment, which was provided by Oxitec to the US Department of Agriculture in 2011, which has not previously been published, showing that the company itself admits there are risks.

These include the risks that more invasive Asian Tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes move into the area, and that the number of cases of potentially fatal Dengue Haemorraghic Fever (DHF) could possibly increase.

“Local people in Panama must be asked for their fully informed consent before these experiments begin,” said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. “This means the risks must not be hidden by the company. People must be able to discuss the pros and cons of these experiments and have a right to have their say.”

None of the residents in East End were consulted when the local Mosquito Research and Control Unit in Grand Cayman teamed up with the Oxford-based firm to release the test tube mosquitoes here, and though the experiment was not secret, none of the possible risks associated with introducing a modified insect into the local environment were revealed.

Oxitec’s GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been genetically programmed to die at the larval stage. They are bred in the lab in the presence of an antidote to the genetic killing mechanism, then vast numbers of males are released into the environment so they outnumber the wild males and mate with wild females. Because most of the offspring die before adulthood, this is intended to reduce the wild population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the tropical disease dengue fever.

Cayman was Oxitec's first open release experiment of GM mosquitoes in 2009-10, followed by a smaller experiment in Malaysia in 2010-11. Larger-scale experiments began in Brazil in February 2011 and are ongoing.

“Despite repeated claims of success made by Oxitec in the press, no results from the Brazil experiments have yet been published in scientific journals,” GeneWatch said in a release. “Impacts on dengue fever have not been measured or reported.”

Wallace said that mosquitoes are part of a complex system, which includes other mosquito species, the viruses they carry and the humans they bite.

“Local people should be aware that releasing large numbers of GM mosquitoes can pose risks to their health and the environment. They also need to know who will be liable if anything goes wrong – will Oxitec take responsibility for any problems, or just walk away?” she asked.

GeneWatch said local people should be told about the risks acknowledged in a draft risk assessment submitted by Oxitec to the USDA, which includes the impact on mosquito populations in general and the possibility that mosquito numbers in areas neighbouring the trials could increase, the impact on dengue fever as no evidence supports a reduction in the fever, and the accidental release of biting females.

The survival and spread of the GM mosquitoes' offspring and their interaction with existing and different mosquitoes is also a risk.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    … And now Oxitec want's to release them GM Mosquitoes in the Florida Keys! (Where there is no Dengue Fever at present)  only, ironically, was there Dengue Fever in FL. 'before' the Cayman release?  During? –Or just after?  Does anyone know that answer?  Was there Dengue in FLorida before the Cayman release or after?


  2. Anonymous says:

    Somebody gave Oxitec permission to release these frankenstein-insects (frankinsects?).

    McKeeva Bush was in power at the time XXXX. Who authorized the release XXXX? Answer these questions and you will find out what really goes on here in Cayman in the privileged echelons.

    I wonder why they didn't release in West Bay or along 7 mile beach if they were so harmless?

    Back to the important news now, I wonder what's on the menu at the Taste of Cayman?


    • experimentor says:

      In the United States if you want to be a guinea pig, you can be one and get paid for it. The difference between the United States and the United Kingdom, is that in the United States you are informed of the tests, you are paid something to be the guinea pig, and if anything should happen to you you're f%%k because you signed a waiver or some form with the fine print. At least up there you have good lawyers. See how the United States are so upfront. But the UK to her overseas territories. 1 – You don't know anything in detail about a test such like this one. 2 – You are not paid anything. For all you know a politician received the monies to have you tested. (we should ivnestigate this). 3 – If any thing or epidemic should happen to you, you have no one to defend you. Even Governor Kilpatrick appeared to support the mosquitoe project from her throne speech. What recourse would we have? … All I have to say it is a crying shame and some rat was paid off to have this done to us without our sufficient understanding of the risks!

  3. CC says:

    CAYMAN WAS THE FIRST PLACE!  What in the hell is going on with our government?!  Why would they allow a foreign company to experiment on the Cayman populous?!  Which minister of the UDP made these jokers come here and release DNA tampered mosquitoes?!  These things we should be looking into seriously!

  4. This bites! says:

    Press Release from Oxitec:

    These new mosquitos we made will make your life better.

    Or, they might not.

    They are completely safe to release into the environment.

    Or, perhaps not.

    They will reduce the incidence of cases of dengue fever.

    Or, make it worse.

    We have tested them thoroughly.

    Although not completely. Anyway, we're not quite sure what they'll do.

    But, we've already released them.

    Good luck


  5. Whodatis says:


  6. Anonymous says:

    So the "risks" are that the science works?  Seems a bit of scaremongering.  The plan is to reduce the species numbers, and the problems identified are that other species might move into the habitat if that original species numbers are reduced. 

  7. BB says:

    Just like I said at the time of the Cayman release, it's bad science. Was then, is now. 


    Would be be nice to know what the payoff was for CIG and MRCU. Anybody know?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Why don't they release them in their own country???? This is all a front for something else! Typical British atittude!

    • Anonymous says:

      mosquitos aretheir carrier deseases have been preety much eradicated in the UK, so why would they need to be released

      and read the report, the risk is it will work and then another species might take it's place, which happens with spraying, except its a resistant mosquito that then thrives.

      trying actually reading the full article before being racist, typical local attitude.

      Ignorance is bliss


  9. Anonymous says:

    That is the good thing about still having territories.  You can make scientific advancements without all the red tape.  That helps keep Britain competitive.