GM mozzies may return to spread bacteria

| 04/02/2015 | 20 Comments
Cayman News Service

Aedes aegypti mosquito

(CNS): As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US considers whether to approve the experimental use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, the Cayman Islands is planning another trial release of the mutant mozzies this year. But GeneWatch UK, an NGO focused on the genetic industry, has published new evidence that genetically modified insects could spread antibiotic resistant bacteria into the environment, posing a risk to human health.

The GM insects that US officials want to release and which could be coming to Cayman again were developed by the British biotech firm, Oxitec, which conducted experiments here in 2010, in conjunction with the MRCU, releasing the insects in East End.

Mosquito controllers in Florida say that after years of spraying, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have developed a resistance to most chemical pesticides. Now, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District wants to try the genetically modified bugs and hope to begin spraying in the spring. The MCD says the surveys it commissioned of area residents suggest that 60 per cent are OK with the trials, and 10 to 20 per cent are opposed. Meanwhile, the plan in Cayman is to go to public consultation before another controlled release takes place on Grand Cayman.

However, GeneWatch says that the GM mosquitoes and agricultural pests used by Oxitec are bred using the common antibiotic tetracycline in their feed and so an open releases of such GM insects could spread antibiotic resistance into the environment, potentially creating more superbugs.

“Mass production of GM insects in factories, using antibiotics as an additive in their feed, could lead to drug resistance in bacteria, leading to the spread of superbugs as billions of insects are released into the environment in future,” warned Dr Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK’s Director. “This important risk to human health has been ignored by regulators, despite bans on the use of antibiotics in animal feed in many countries.”

Following the release here in 2010, other experimental releases of tens of millions of the mosquitoes have taken place in Brazil and Panama. GeneWatch maintains that if their commercial use is adopted, billions of Oxitec’s GM insects would be released year after year in attempts to suppress wild pest insect populations over vast areas and perhaps whole countries.

“If such GM insects became a new source of antibiotic resistance worldwide, this could have serious adverse impacts on human and animal health,” the organisation stated.

The report raises concerns that the bacteria and antibiotic resistant genes may spread through the insect population, from the mainly male GM insects that are released to their wild mates and offspring, and that horizontal gene transfer may lead to transfer of antibiotic resistance to bacteria, causing food- and water-borne diseases, such as E. coli, via larvae that develop in food (agricultural pests) or water (mosquitoes).

GeneWatch also points to the possible transfer to humans or animals, for example by swallowing GM agricultural pests at the larval stage when they will contaminate fruit and vegetable supplies, or swallowing GM mosquito larvae via contaminated water.

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Category: Environmental Health, Health, Medical Health

Comments (20)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    CNS – For future topics like this I respectfully suggest an article and an editorial. That way you can report the facts in one and sensationalise in the later. Because Genewatch didn’t publish ‘evidence’ that the GMO mosquitos are ‘likely’ (the implication) to spread antibiotic resistance. What they published was more like spurious claims, covered with so many ifs and maybes and possiblys that they might have also said that the GMO mosquitos were from the moon. Maybe. And still not have perjured themselves.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Genewatch’s position is politically driven and completely speculative. There is no evidence that the mosquitos contain antibiotic resistant bacteria. In addition, the female mosquitos that mate with the GM mosquitos don’t produce larvae, which is why this works. This is the same kind of fear-mongering that results in measles outbreaks because parents have been scared away from vaccinating their children.

  3. Anonymous says:

    NO!!! Why take that risk in such a small environment? And its nice to finally be told about the first batch… now that risks have been identified. Why weren’t we not told??? Sad.

    • Anonymous says:

      We were told, more than once. There was a public outcry rather like what there will probably be again this time. It still went forward and nobody noticed any perceivable difference due to the small scale and isolated nature of the first trial.

    • Drew says:

      You must have missed the prior reports that were all over CaymanNewsService and CayCompass:

      CaymanNewsService prior reports:

      CayCompass prior reports:

      Dozens of articles covering everything from the initial proposal to results and subsequent trials elsewhere. There are even are reports from those who raised objections without any scientific foundation whatsoever.

      Any claim that the matter was not previously reported and the public not informed is simply and flatly untrue.

    • Anonymous says:

      What risks? Read what they actually suggest. That a mosquito GMed to depend on an antibiotic will magically produce antibiotic resistance. In other species.

      Newsflash: Your couch may spontaneously combust. It probably won’t but you have been warned. To be on the safe side you should stand up rift now and not sit back down. Just in case.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What next? That’s all I can say. What the hell next!??!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I have no problem with controlled and scaled release of sterile male mosquitos. Male mosquitos do not seek a blood meal. They do not have any reason or equipment to interact with humans – just the eggs of female mosquitos (which in this case do not get fertilized, and thus, do not hatch into new super mosquitos). They likely taste the same to birds, fish, bats and other insects that might eat them, though I must confess, I have not tried them myself. The scale of these releases are, in the grand scheme, statistically inconsequential, and last only one ‘much-abridged’ breeding cycle – ensuring the end game: fewer breeding females for successive broods. Everybody concerned should visit MRCU website – or simply google the mosquito breeding cycle. The pioneering work by MRCU in the global mosquito control fight should be a source of great national pride – to be applauded.

    • Anonymous says:

      I love it when people actually do a little research before commenting. Thank you for stating what many of us who have educated ourselves on the process think rather than just blasting the idea without understanding the theory behind how it should work.

  6. Drew says:

    According to GeneWatch’s own website Dr Helen Wallace “has a degree in physics from Bristol University and a PhD in applied mathematics from Exeter University.” See:

    Why are we giving the time of day to a physicist and mathematician on an issue of entomology and genetics? Dr Wallace does not have an educational background to back her claims.

    The Oxitec process is adapting a well tried approach of releasing sterile males to breed with females. Prior versions sterilized the males using radiation. Oxitec uses a genetic modification.

    Oxitec’s approach is proven safe and effective at dramatically reducing the A. egypti mosquito population. These are the same mosquitoes responsible for spread dengue fever throughout the tropics and chickungunya right here in Cayman. These mosquitoes have already developed resistance to many chemical sprays. The Oxitec approach prevents the mosquitoes from developing further resistance.

  7. Anonymous says:

    How is this any different from us eating animals that have been raised on antibiotics and growth hormones ?

  8. ST says:

    Are you kidding me???!!! Why on earth (other than to make a buck or two) would we allow our islands to become scientific experiments? This is THE MOST STUPID thing I have ever heard of and I CANNOT BELIEVE people are not outraged about this!!!! I SAY NO!! I AM NOT A LAB RAT!!!!!!!!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      You want to know why?

      How about diseases such as West Nile virus, La Crosse encephalitis, Jamestown Canyon virus, Western Equine Encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, Malaria, Dengue fever and Chikungunya fever, for starters?

      Most of these diseases are not well understood and even fewer have cures.

      I guarantee you that if you contracted any one of the numerous diseases without a cure, you would be more than happy to be a “lab rat” for an experimental treatment that could spare your life.

      Although these genetically-modified mosquitoes only have a hypothetical risk of antibiotic resistance — the mosquito population they will supress will reduce the risk of them spreading one or more of the above diseases that are 100% capable of killing people.

      I’ll take those odds any day…

      • Anonymous says:

        I think that you have no idea (nor does anyone else) what the biological result of genetically modifying mosquitos and releasing them into the wild could be- just think of the Africanized killer bees- that went well didn’t it! If people would just wear some mosquito spray and take appropriate preventative measures they shouldn’t get sick. Humans should not try to “play God” it only ever ends in disasters since the human brain and science is limited. AND NO I would rather take my chance with the disease than be a lab rat! But thanks for the offer, let’s let them test it in the confines of your home since you are willing to sacrifice yourself for the “greater good”, thanks!

        • Anonymous says:

          Male mosquitos live a very short life and survive only on flower nectar. Their only job is to fertilize the eggs of females. If they are sterile, the eggs that they encounter are not fertilized, and they are never turned into a new breeding population. The males expire, drop to the ground, and dissolve into nature. This is a localized and temporary control measure and it works.

        • Anonymous says:

          Your Postulation: no one has any idea of the result of GMO mosses.
          Obvious Deduction: then there is no reason to believe that anything will go wrong with them. Because no one knows of there being any possible thing to go wrong.

          There, now don’t you feel safer with you logic having been taken to its logical conclusion.

    • Sandboy says:

      CNS, for heavens sake stop the scaremongering, GM stands for genetically modified and NOT mutation. It isn’t any wonder that the less well informed on this island come out with stupid, narrow minded comments in the way they do. They don’t seem to mind that Africans are used as lab rats to stop Ebola from spreading around the world. Typical double standards.

  9. BRUCE LEEROY says:


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