Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trial for GM mozzies

IMR completes field trial for GM mozzies
The Star Online
January 27, 2011

PETALING JAYA: The Institute for Medical Research (IMR) has completed one run of its field trial involving genetically-modified (GM) male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes at a forest near Bentong, Pahang.

IMR director Dr Shahnaz Murad said the institute released about 6,000 GM mosquitoes at the site on Dec 21, along with a similar number of normal male mosquitoes.

“The experiment was successfully concluded on Jan 5,” she said in a press statement here yesterday.

“Fogging with insecticide was conducted on Jan 6 to eliminate all mosquitoes but monitoring will continue for up to two months,” she said.

Dr Shahnaz said no further release of GM mosquitoes was planned until the post-trial monitoring was completed and the results analysed and presented in peer-reviewed scientific journals and meetings.

The male GM mosquitoes have a gene that causes any offspring they produce to die before reaching sexual maturity in the absence of the antibiotic tetracycline.

Theoretically, continuous release of these GM male mosquitoes to mate with wild female mosquitoes will cause the Aedes aegypti population to decrease, and thus, reduce the incidence of dengue fever, which is transmitted through the bite of the female A. aegypti mosquito.

The National Biosafety Board’s genetic modification advisory committee (GMAC), responsible for assessing the safety of the field trial, granted conditional approval in October last year to the IMR to conduct the field trials in Bentong and Alor Gajah, Malacca.

One of the conditions was that the institute had to gain the consensus and approval of the local communities via a public forum at least two weeks before any release.

However, an IMR scientist with the project said as the release was at an uninhabited site, it was not necessary to hold a public forum beforehand.

GMAC head Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir said it had been agreed during earlier discussions between the committee and the IMR that signboards explaining the experiment and contact details would be put up around any uninhabited site where a release was planned.

Many local and international NGOs have voiced their concern over the release of the GM mosquitoes over the past few months.

Third World Network senior researcher (biosafety) Lim Li Ching said it was not appropriate that IMR announce the release so late after the trial.

“They should be aware of the concern and interest, both locally and internationally, over this trial.

“And they should know the criticisms over the Cayman Islands trial,” she said, referring to the perceived lack of transparency over the release of the same GM mosquitoes in the British Overseas Territory in 2009.

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