Genetically engineered mosquitoes could create another mosquito population disaster


Too often science makes a so-called breakthrough and we jump on its results. But also too often, we blindly leap, never considering the potential issues of the larger picture.

And here we are again.

In an article in yesterday’s Sustainable Pulse, genetic engineering company Oxitec, the company clamoring to release GE mosquitoes to deal with the Zika problem, admitted that reducing one mosquito species could likely lead to a population explosion of the Asian Tiger Mosquito.

Oxitec previously denied that releasing millions of GE Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which is supposed to suppress wild mosquito numbers, would result in increased numbers of the Aedes albopictus species (the Asian Tiger mosquito). This mosquito also transmits also viral tropical diseases such as dengue, and has recently been shown to be a vector of chikungunya, a devastating, sometimes lethal viral disease.

Court documents from the Cayman Islands released last Friday by International Center for Technology Assessment, GeneWatchUK, Food and Water Watch and Friends of the Earth revealed that  Oxitec, a subsidiary of Intrexon, applied for trial releases of its GM mosquito, which, according to the new information, would be inefficient and risky. The evidence shows that Oxitec has been aware of a major flaw in its single-species, technological approach to eradicating disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Aedes albopictus is a more invasive species than Aedes aegypti and can be found in every east coast U.S. state from Maine to Florida, all southern states, most Midwestern states and in the states along the US-Mexico border from Texas west to California.

The information that the company knew and disregarded is scary at best and a serious problem should the company be allowed to proceed with their GE bug release.

“Current permits for releases should now be revoked until regulators recognize the downsides of Oxitec’s technology and the need to consider all the impacts on the ecosystem,” said Dr. Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK. “The consequences of mass releases of GM mosquitoes could be harmful if other disease-carrying mosquito species move in as a result. Risk assessments in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and the USA need to be revised.”

When will we learn that every new solution creates new problems? It’s critical that irrespective of scientific “breakthroughs” we keep a firm grip on the larger picture and address the problems new technology and new methodology present BEFORE we jump on that bandwagon. We certainly could stave off a lot of disasters – health and otherwise – if we operate that way.

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