(CNS): As suspicions continue about the planned release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in a pilot project aimed at eradicating the invasive, disease-spreading Aedes aegypti, the MRCU and their partners in the project, the UK-based bio-technology firm Oxitec, have insisted the release is safe and that the recent adverts taken out by those opposing the project in the press are misleading the public. Responding to common questions and what they say are incorrect assertions by the group, who want the release postponed, scientists from the MRCU and Oxitec have outline more details about the release.
“Suppressing or even eradicating the non-native species Aedes aegypti will not have a harmful impact on the Cayman Islands ecosystem,” they wrote in the release responding to the claims of the anti-GM bug group. “In Cayman, assessments were conducted by the Departments of Agriculture and Environment. Since the implementation of the National Conservation Law it has been further reviewed by the National Conservation Council.”
Those opposing the release have implied that the US Food and Drug Administration have rescinded the approval for the use of such GM mosquitoes but Oxitec said this is not true. Ahead of the approval here from the PPM government, the FDA had published in March a preliminary finding of ‘No Significant Impact’ following a trial. It had concluded that the planned Florida trial would not have a negative impact on human health or the environment.
“The public consultation phase on this preliminary finding has recently finished and the final position of US FDA will be issued in due course. Nothing has been rescinded,” the scientists stated.
The scientists have caused controversy and have been fighting opposition to the release of their bio-engineered insects everywhere they have conducted trials and a key issue has been the release of female modified insects. In the latest release the scientists again insist that only a tiny fraction of the sterile insects released are female.
“Oxitec’s protocols are designed to minimise the likelihood of female release,” officials stated. “In the event female mosquitos were released, it is extremely unlikely that a released female of the Oxitec GM mosquitoes could survive long enough in the environment to spread disease because they only live 2-4 days and it takes 5-10 days to contract these viruses.”
While the project is stirring up concerns in Cayman as it has elsewhere, the government is among those that support the technology.
If the technique works and proves not to have any unexpected environmental impact in the longer term, the GM bugs not only propose a solution to the increasing resistance of one of the world’s most dangerous insects to existing insecticides, it could have significant green credentials. The lack of any chemical pollutants in the technology means that despite environmental fears, it could eventually prove to be the most environmentally safe way of eradicating the dangerous pest worldwide.
Those opposing the use of the GM insects worry about the long-term unintended consequences of releasing engineered species into the natural environment.