Thursday, January 12, 2012
Cayman’s GM mozzies may have reproduced
Cayman News Service
January 12, 2012
The genetically modified mosquitoes released in the Cayman Islands over a year ago as part of a research study on the eradication of dengue fever by the UK-based company Oxitec could have reproduced and mixed in with the local population. According to a redacted document released to GeneWatch UK following a freedom of information request in Britain, the genetically modified pests, which the manufacturer described as sterile, did produce offspring around 15 percent of which survived. During the study the GM mozzies were fed cat food containing chicken contaminated with low levels of tetracycline, which allowed the mosquitoes to reproduce with their offspring surviving to adulthood.
The international charity, Friends of the Earth, has accused the company of trying tried to hide the evidence that its technology failed to prevent reproduction.
The release of the genetically modified mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, where there are no biosafety laws or regulations, caught the international scientific community and most residents by surprise. The release took place in East End.
The goal of Oxitec’s research was to prevent the progeny of GM mosquitoes from surviving in the wild, thereby reducing mosquito populations. However, the activist group said that failure to prevent reproduction in the presence of low levels of tetracycline is cause for concern, raising the spectre of genetically modified mosquitoes surviving and breeding, producing adult populations of GM mosquitoes, including GM females which can bite and transmit disease.
“The antibiotic tetracycline is widely used in agriculture and is present in sewage as well as in industrially farmed meat. Mosquitoes that carry dengue fever are known to breed in environments contaminated with sewage where they are likely to encounter widespread tetracycline contamination,” Friends of the Earth stated in a release relating to the revelations of the document from Oxitec.
The global green movement noted that GM females might cause unknown impacts on human health, such as allergies, and that the ecological implications of GM mosquitoes surviving and breeding are also unknown.
Even in the absence of tetracycline contamination, the GM mosquitoes are known to survive in the laboratory at rates of around 3 percent. In the field, this would translate into large numbers of survivors, given that continual releases of millions of GM mosquitoes would be needed to sustain the goals of population suppression.
“The fact that Oxitec is hiding data from the public has undermined its credibility,” said Eric Hoffman of Friends of the Earth US. “Oxitec’s assertions cannot be trusted. Trials of its mosquitoes must not move forward in the absence of comprehensive and impartial reviews of the environmental, human health and ethical risks. Such trials must also await the establishment of a clear and well-designed regulatory framework, which does not yet exist.”
Oxitec has released genetically modified mosquitoes in field experiments in Malaysia and Brazil as well as Cayman, where the first release took place, and the firm was planning a release in the Florida Keys in April this year.
Lucia Ortiz of Friends of the Earth Brazil said that Oxitec was using poor regions in the Global South, such as cities in the Northeast region of Brazil, as its laboratories
“Oxitec has not proven its mosquitoes are safe for people or the environment, nor has it been open and honest with the local communities about the possible risks its technology poses,” he said. “This news only highlights the need for all the company’s data on its mosquitoes to be made public so people and local governments can make informed decisions as to whether or not they want GM mosquitoes in their communities.”
Other countries where releases of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes have been proposed include Panama, India, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago.