Oxitec bio-bugs ‘ineffective and risky’, claim activists

| 08/09/2017 | 26 Comments
Cayman News Service

Genetically modified mosquitoes are placed in a freezer by Dr Renaud Lacroix from Oxitec

(CNS): The UK-based anti-GM charity and research group, GeneWatch UK, has taken aim at the project in which millions of bio-engineered mosquitoes were released in the Cayman Islands. In the wake of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit’s first annual report on the progress of the project, the activists called into question the efficiency, effectiveness and value for money, as well as pointing to the increased risk caused by a number of biting GM female insects being released alongside the males. The data used by GeneWatch came from the MRCU, which it received through an FOI request. It included the annual report before the people of Cayman were even informed by the authorities here that it existed.

But analyzing the report and the other documents released, GeneWatch said the information has shown the project release is ineffective and poses risks to the community — data which was not available to the National Conservation Council (NCC) at its 4 June meeting, when it cleared the way for the proposed island-wide roll-out of the GM mosquito project.

The new information reveals how biting female GM mosquitoes have been released because the bugs are sorted by researchers and in some cases notable numbers of females have found their way into the batches for release alongside the male mosquitoes that do not bite. The activists say that Oxitec has struggled to suppress the wild population of mosquitoes and has only had an effect in the dry season, when numbers are low, combined with spraying.

“Plans to roll-out Oxitec’s GM mosquito releases island-wide must be halted whilst this new information is properly considered,” said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. “Oxitec’s GM technology is failing in the field and poses unnecessary risks.”

GeneWatch also criticised Oxitec for using egg traps to claim its release has worked, whereas the activists said traps do not measure the number of females which bite and cause disease. But in the annual report, for the first time, adult female numbers are reported, showing that the suppression level claimed by Oxitec is inaccurate.

Oxitec is claiming that they have suppressed the population of mosquitoes in the release area compared to the control area by over 70%, but GeneWatch said the data shows spikes in adult females and that this may also be fueled by inadvertent releases of GM females.

While the target had been to have no more than 1,000 biting female GM bugs released each week among the many tens of thousands of males, in some weeks up to 9,000 biting females were released because of human error in the sorting.

Despite the criticisms from GeneWatch, which were based on Oxitec’s own data, when CNS contacted the MRCU authorities, they stood by the project.

“The MRCU and Oxitec are engaged in ongoing discussions regarding the expansion of the ‘Friendly Aedes aegypti Programme’,” MRCU Acting Director Nancy Barnard said, adding that the MRCU had followed due process to comply with all regulatory requirements.

Meanwhile, CNS has also contacted the NCC and we are awaiting a response.

See both the MRCU and GeneWatch reports in the CNS Library

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (26)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Bio bugs ineffective and risky at eradicating ignorance.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree, genetically modified ANYTHING is bad.

    • Anon says:

      I am prepared to allow the experiment to continue — Gene Watch speaks about the risks to the commmnity — this story seems to suggest some increased risk of spread of disease. Well possibly u damn if u do and u damn if you don’t. Aren’t we more vulnerable if serious disease-carrying Aedes egypti goes unchecked? Isn’t that where the bigger risks lie?

    • Anonymous says:

      We have genetically modifying since the days of Gregor Mendel. The result – increased capacity to feed a growing population utilizing less resources than would previously have been required. Admittedly some has been for vanity (think pets), but largely genetic manipulations have drastically improved the world we live in.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I dont know what Oxitec or MRCU is doing but I live in West Bay near a piece of land that always had mosquitos after every rain, some bulldog sized fellas. Now about more than 6 months later theres barely any so im not complaining fam.

  4. Annie says:

    Human error, a common problem here in Cayman!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Genewatch is Helen Wallace, a single person entity. She’s a former Greenpeace crusader looking to pin down private financial grant money – she hopes from monied private Cayman donors – to support her anti-GMO thesis. The thesis will never change, only her story to explain it. She has a background in physics and a PhD in math and is in the twilight of a patchy career. She’s not a medical doctor, but she may let donors believe she is if they want to believe that. If any credible scientific group want to support her method, and conclusions, i.e. the wild theory that GMO females are somehow “spreading disease”, in an environment entirely clear of known cases, then let them step forward and be counted. Until then, perhaps we should dial back the credibility of these repeated nonsensical claims. Thanks.

    • Rick Berns says:

      Whoever you are, you clearly have no idea of science or effective writing. Both of which is fine, since you are unable to hide your own bias.

      In the first place, it is irrelevant how the claimant is motivated, what matters are the facts presented. These are not disputed in your arguments.

      Secondly, medical qualifications are for treating sick people medically. What does it have to do with scientific research of mosquito or the bio-engineering of our environment?

      Also, if you knew what a risk was, you would understand that the increased presence of female mosquito presents increased risks, simply because biting mosquito presents risks of spreading disease. Period. No one claimed that diseases were being spread.

      As a Caymanian with children who must live in these islands, I am very grateful for this report, whatever the motivations, because it raises questions and exposes poor governance which impact my health and quality of life.

      And I want answers from my government. Not lame excuses from a government agency which does nothing to address the concerns that are raised.

      • Anonymous says:

        The “concerns” raised in the Genewatch report are essentially disjointed historical quotes (some from early researchers pre-release in 2009) rehashed as contemporary “scientific doubt”. It is a fact, conceded by Genewatch, that less than 0.2% (2/1000) GMO females were released last year and this acceptable error rate was fully disclosed by MRCU. That’s a 99.8% male release rate = that’s pretty good. There is still no source of naturally occurring tetracycline in Cayman, nor any diseases, so any GMO offspring died before emergence and that’s good news for the demise of this invasive species. There is no agricultural runoff where tetracycline concentrations might artificially occur in an urban domesticated environment to allow GMO larvae to survive to emergence. There is no evidence that mosquitos possess the mental acuity to discern competitive distribution in an urban setting, so that argument is laughable. Helen Wallace’s random stabs at this program demonstrate she doesn’t know an Aedes Aegypti from a hair brush.

  6. Anonymous says:

    In the end it is humans that sort the male mosquitos from the female. Oxitec cannot provide and study showing that biting females do not carry diseases. All they can say is that they only release male mosquitos that do not bite. factoring in human error I am sure they release quite a few biting females that probably mated and produced GMO offspring in the wild, which no one knows what the affects of that will be until it is too late.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why Cayman only ,excepted these Mosquitos in the first, is it because the government here is more stupid than other Islands.

    • Anonymous says:

      If the insect mutation impacts the lifecycle of the resultant offspring with contributing chromosomes from both “mother” and “father”, does it matter which parent chromosome delivers the defect to the offspring? Or, phrased differently, which parent would deliver the necessary antibiotic to allow any resulting larva to reach emergence? Or is the suggestion that a 2% mutated female insect DNA population can somehow find and bite an infected human host, modify the single strand RNA virus, and then pass a new mutated RNA virus to a second host, in a place that has zero incidence of any of these diseases? Good luck.

      • Rick Berns says:

        Silly argument. What makes you think that Grand Cayman will never be exposed to any mosquito borne disease? Is the presence of more females not an increased risk that in the presence of any of these diseases there is an increased risk of it being spread? And what makes you think we want a spike in biting females anyway, 2% or more?

        We are not a laboratory and no one asked us whether we wanted to become guinea pigs. Nor do we have any confidence in any of your claims. Go take your greed somewhere else.

        • Anonymous says:

          Actually, it is accepted fact, and included in the Genewatch report, that an estimated error rate of 0.2% were accidentally GMO female; that’s 2 female for every 1000 males released. That’s an incredibly thorough effort and about as close to zero as it could ever get.

        • Anonymous says:

          There are far fewer breeding male and female Aedes Aegypti this rainy season as a direct result of this program. Fewer eggs being laid by any subsequent generations – that unlike other mosquito species – are laid almost anywhere that may stand to get wet now or in the future, and close to human host habitation. The eggs are visible and viable for much longer than other species of mosquito. There is no “new species” of mosquito known to be evolving in to this significantly unusual range of habitat unique and specialized to this particular invasive species. These are measurable facts.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Mosquitoes in my yard in west bay are all but gone. Maybe one or two here and there but it like it used to be. This time of year you couldn’t be outside with out bug spray. Now, no spray no problems.
    Someone’s always going fro bitch about something!

  8. Anonymous says:

    They may be a non-profit but it is hard to call them a charity. They appear to do a little research and a lot of politics.

  9. Anonymous says:

    There is no level of proof acceptable to these people.

  10. Sucka Free Cayman says:

    But didnt stop Dr Petrie from getting his big time job this whole foolishness was to get the stock up for intrexon please stop using Oxitec it was bought for 160 million in August 2015 by Intrexon. Mosquitoes are getting hindered in Cayman by over development not some hocus pocus program.

  11. Anonymous says:

    If you’re from the UK how can you say its ineffective here?, how do we know its not your crappy research? Just because someone says something is bad and isnt working does this mean its true? Not defending oxitec but its the truth. Its always some conspiracy theorist out there

  12. Anonymous says:

    I hate to say “I Told You So” But…I told you so…

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