GM project cuts mozzies by over 80%

| 26/01/2017 | 28 Comments
Cayman News Service

Genetically modified mosquitoes are prepared for release

(CNS): There has been a dramatic fall in the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in West Bay, where genetically modified bugs have been released in a pilot project to get as near as possible to eradicating the disease-spreading pest. Over the last six months the MRCU, in partnership with a private UK bio-technology firm, has released millions of genetically altered male insects in a selected area of West Bay, where the population has now fallen by almost 90% when compared to nearby areas where the GM bugs were not released.

Preliminary results published this week revealed that the Aedes aegypti population in the project area is now just 12% of the numbers found in the comparative non-treatment study area also in West Bay. The technique involves releasing large numbers of sterile engineered male mosquitoes into an area with a wild population to mate with the females. Then, as almost all of the larvae dies before reaching maturity and because the life-cycle of a mosquito is short, it’s not long before the population begins to fall.

Dr Bill Petrie, the director of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit, told the media Thursday during an update on the pilot project that the operational roll-out of Oxitec’s bio-engineered insects was “going better than expected”.

Petrie said that on average, the appearance of the fluorescent monitoring markers in the larvae produced by the natural females who mate with the GM bugs has now increased and is being spotted in most batches of eggs in the treatment area, which means that the natural population is now in rapid decline. Last week the number of Aedes aegypti eggs collected in traps in the treatment area was 88% less than the nearby non-treatment area, while the fluorescent larvae has averaged 94% during the last two months in samples.

“Both these statistics show that the programme is working as we anticipated,” said Petrie. “We expect to see this pattern continue and the population of Aedes aegypti fall even further in the treatment area.”

Many of the mosquitoes that people may be seeing in the project area are going to be the GM males. The hunt to find females seems to be getting harder and harder as the non-pesticide technology appears to be doing what the scientists from Oxitec claimed it would.

Despite the lingering opposition to the project, the MRCU boss said he was pleased with the preliminary results and was certain that this technology was “the safest and most efficient way” to tackle Aedes aegypti, which continues to be a major public health risk here and around the world.

Over the last few weeks the Zika epidemic has abated and Cayman has not seen a new case of the disease since November. Most scientists still believe there is sufficient research to support a link to birth defects in babies whose mothers contracted Zika in pregnancy. But there are other major health concerns about the Aedes aegypti mosquito, as it transmits several unpleasant and dangerous viruses, such as chikungunya, dengue fever and West Nile virus. It is also believed to be responsible for transmitting the Mayaro virus, which recently appeared in this region for the first time in Haiti.

But public health officials globally, regionally and locally are now concerned about dengue.

The WHO is warning that this could be a serious problem this year. Given that type 3 dengue fever is now emerging in this region, those who have contracted type 1 and 2 dengue, the more common forms in this part of the world, are now at greater risk if they are exposed to type 3.

The transmission by the Aedes aegypti of documented viruses, changing and mutating viruses and even viruses that are not yet known or newly emerging ones, means it remains a public health challenge that must be controlled. But as the mosquito is increasingly resistant to pesticides, using toxic chemicals is becoming a losing battle in the effort to control the pest.

The preliminary findings from the first full operational deployment of the bio-engineered bugs appears to show the project is working. The Oxitec scientists also insist that the technique is very safe, much more so than chemical pesticides, and despite the fears and environmental concerns, no evidence has emerged from anywhere that indicates that the use of these bio-engineered bugs poses any risk to humans or the environment, mostly because there is no long-term impact. The GM bugs live such a short time and leave almost nothing behind as they are sterile and because, as males, they cannot bite.

Petrie said he was looking forward to more figures over the next few weeks to give even stronger data but he was confident about the trend and the success of the project.

With the positive impact in the pilot treatment area already apparent, Petrie confirmed that he still hoped to see a national roll-out using the Oxitec bugs island-wide to bring down the population of Aedes aegypti to the point where it will be all but eradicated. Then the MRCU will focus on stopping the numbers from ever rising again, which Petrie said would be much easier and cheaper to achieve with the bio-engineered bugs than with the pesticides currently being used.

The mosquito boss said discussions were now underway to create a seamless phased roll-out. He said that to suddenly stop using the bio-bugs for any lengthy period after such great results in West Bay would be disappointing, as the population would begin to increase relatively quickly once the GM bugs disappear since the surrounding areas were not treated.

The next phase will require further licensing and funding, but government has said it is fully behind the project and the MRCU has cash to see this project through until October.

In a press release from the premier’s ministry, which is responsible for the MRCU, Alden McLaughlin offered his support and said he was pleased about the results so far.

“We must protect our people from viruses such as Zika, so I am proud of the work being done by MRCU in conjunction with Oxitec,” he said.

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Category: Health, Land Habitat, Medical Health, Science & Nature

Comments (28)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Obviously it worked. You idiots trying to block the release should have to look the pregnant ladies of Cayman in the eyes and explain yourself. While they sat nervously waiting for their tests results, covered arms and legs in sweltering heat you sat behind a screen to protest something you knew nothing about.

  2. Teumessian says:

    Doing gods work.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a complete disaster and lie. So wrong to do this with the people of Cayman.

  4. Breadfruit says:

    Dwene and Katina must be looking and feeling really smart right about now with all of their efforts to oppose this. Barking at something they know little about, and quick to jump on any conspiracy they can find with a google search or conjure. Respect to the MRCU for their efforts to improve public health.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Next up-Iguanas, chickens and scorpions

  6. Diogenes says:

    Amazing. Something the current government did that was brave – lot of popular opposition – and worked. Yet they claim no credit for it. They should be shouting from the rooftops that it is an example of good judgment and statesmen like behaviour, but seems they would rather confine the agenda to why they didn’t achieve other things, like the dump or cruise ship dock. You have to wonder at them political calculus. Are we that sad a society that politicians think it’s better to talk about not achieving things that are unpopular than things that worked but went contrary to public opinion at the time?

  7. Crash Test Dummies says:

    Yes 734am that may be exactly what this company is doing but i see they have a few just like you on here praising them already infected with stupidity . Could you ask the good Doktor exactly why he and our beloved Govt keep saying Oxitec when they know it was sold to Intrexon corporation for 160million in 2014 or are they too infected. Please Cayman read or research these Corporations and you will see who what and why they are here. I would like to know exactly who brought them here??? Or why a certain Law Firm where a Certain Minister use to work is the registed office for both the Brazillian and Cayman sudsidiaries oops!!! to much info to digest. Well Cayman feel free to go now and buy Intrexon Stock on the NYSE it is rising because of you? Why didnt Cayman Brac get ZIKA or is just for Grand Cayman????

    • Anonymous says:

      Crash Test Dummies — making insinuations and suggesting some sinister conspiracy are just not helpful — if you know something, say something — where it counts — the Complaints Office or the Corruption Commission.

      In the meantime, regardless of what you call it, this is good news for Cayman. Let’s celebrate the victory. Awesome news.

    • Anonymous says:

      Because you don’t have a serious infestation of Aedes egypti mosquitoes, maybe? Idiot.

      • Anonymous says:

        Name calling is such an elevated form of argument. But you are in good company — president of the US, no less. So you are excused.

        But time will tell — and then we will learn who the idiots are.

        Bring it on, MRCU.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Can we not release GM mozzies that will wipe out the more common type of mosquito? Then there’s less need for spraying all that toxic crap, that’s used at the moment.

  9. Anonymous says:

    When is Oxitec’s IPO?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Now if only we could release genetically modifed humans in the hope of eradicating some of the population of the island that also spreads disease,plagues and ignorance.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or at least humans with the full quota of genes. That would be a good start. Mix ’em up a little.

  11. Anonymous says:

    We also just had our dryest year on record! ?

    • MM says:

      Good point – that and the cold weather that mozzies do not like. Oh boy,

    • Anonymous says:

      Which is why its an ‘experiment-to-control’ areas comparison (and assuming that it rains relatively equally on either side of West Bay over the course of months) not a ‘year-to-year’ comparison. So the results are right regardless of weather (relatively speaking).

    • StopTheCrime says:

      Regardless, most of the larvae are glowing and clearly from the modified mosquitos, so the project is indeed working.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is the biggest scam.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank Goodness for our Civil Service. Shame on those negative posters who were against this life saving project.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Excellent. Keep going please, Dr Petrie. The population appreciates the work of MRCU. You are saving lives and a whole lot of pain and distress. Enjoy the moment and keep the good work going.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Nothing like patting yourself on the back.
    We only have one information source in this matter, the source with the money behind it,

    • Anonymous says:

      What “pats” on the back? MRCU’s scientists conducted a pilot and are now reporting the results.

      Now I will give my pat: Good job, MRCU.

      Let’s get this programme into every district and let’s not spend any more wasted time and effort into unwarranted enquiries.

  15. Unison says:

    Ok … I see preliminary results comes from the MRCU in partnership with a private UK bio-technology firm. …

    Hmmm :/ …

    Can’t we not have an outside independent entity – not UK, not local nor US to run test results???

    • Anonymous says:

      Great idea, are you going to finance a whole new trial and results, or audit the last one? If a whole new one, please start in my neighborhood…

      • Anonymous says:

        Ah 8.03! I am afraid we will need some consultants first to study the whole question..

      • Unison says:

        It was a direct experiment on the people of this island … why shouldn’t government want to spend more??? :/

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