Cayman Islands residents given assurances as GM mosquitoes set to be released

NEW GM mosquitoes

GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands, Thursday May 26, 2016 – Millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes are due to be released next month in the fight against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the Zika, Dengue Fever and Chikungunya viruses.

The project is being rollout out in West Bay, where officials say up to 200,000 of the genetically engineered insects could be released three times a week to breed with regular females.

“The essence of this technique is the use of effectively sterile male mosquitoes, which are released in the environment then mate with the wild female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are already out there. The progeny of those female mosquitoes then do not complete development, they all die, so they do not reach maturity,” Bill Petrie, Director of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit told residents at a meeting.

British company Oxitec has sought to allay fears of health risks and damage to the environment, with its Product Development Manager Derek Nimmo stating that all traces of the bio-engineered insects disappeared within weeks after trials.

Residents were also assured that accidentally ingesting a genetically modified mosquito was no more harmful than if this occurred with normal mosquitoes, and that there is no difference getting bitten by a GM female mosquito than one in the wild.

In a statement earlier this month, Matthew Warren from Oxitec explained: “The proteins that are introduced into our mosquitoes are non-toxic and non-allergenic, so if someone were to swallow an Oxitec mosquito, it would be just like swallowing a wild mosquito.”

“These proteins are also not expressed in the saliva of females. If a person was bitten by an Oxitec female, it would be the same as being bitten by a wild mosquito.”

During the meeting with residents this week, Petrie suggested that the GM mosquito could be the final solution for the pest, which has become increasingly challenging to control.

Oxitec, which has carried out similar releases in others countries, among them Brazil and Panama, said the mosquitoes are now proven bio-technology, and the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes is expected to dramatically decline by September.

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