Success of GM mozzie project queried by MRCU

| 20/02/2018 | 27 Comments
Cayman News Service, Genetically modified mosquito

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

(CNS): Government has cancelled a planned national roll-out of the controversial genetically modified mosquito project by the UK-based firm Oxitec. Nancy Barnard, the acting director of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit, told CNS that the decision not to expand the experimental method for suppressing the Aedes aegypti was due to budget cuts. However, it appears that government was questioning the success of the entire project, with divisions between the former head of the MRCU and his senior staff over the impact of releasing the bio-engineered insect.

According to a chain of correspondence between the MRCU, the ministry and Oxitec executives, not all of those involved in the project believed it was working or that the West Bay pilot was as successful as Oxitec had claimed.

Earlier this month CNS submitted questions to the MRCU about the situation regarding the current mosquito project. On Friday, Barnard responded and told us that there would not be a national roll-out, largely due to government-wide budgeting considerations.

“MRCU and Oxitec are now looking into an integrated programme using all methods available to fight Aedes aegypti in full synergy,” she said. “The 2018 programme will allow MRCU scientists time to assess a fully integrated vector management (IVM) approach with Oxitec in West Bay. MRCU is in the final stages of talks with Oxitec regarding the ‘Friendly Aedes aegypti Programme’ for 2018.”

But last week, as a result of an FOI request, the MRCU released a long chain of correspondence between the unit, government officials and Oxitec executives covering the life of the project. It is clear from the email chains that not everyone at MRCU or the ministry was convinced the GM mosquitoes were having a significant impact, and concerns were raised about the failure to reach the sustained suppression rates that had been expected.

Oxitec blamed the lower rates on the delays it experienced getting a further licence to import the eggs after the National Conservation Council requested an environmental assessment, but the MRCU appeared to believe that this setback was not the only reason for the lower than expected suppression rates.

It seemed that while the former MRCU director, Dr Bill Petrie, had recommended the national roll-out, other scientists at the department had concerns about how successful the West Bay pilot had been. Following Petrie’s departure from the unit last summer and after mixed messages from government to their private sector partners, the planned island-wide roll-out was shelved by the ministry and the MRCU.

By the end of September last year, it was clear that no money was going to be allocated in the two-year 2018/19 budget for the island-wide roll-out of the genetically modified mosquitoes. Oxitec then began accusing government officials of having a lack of “scientific rationale” behind the decision-making after Dr Petrie resigned, as well as a lack of consistency and objectivity.

The correspondence suggests that the parties came to some form of draft agreement to continue the project in West Bay for this year only and to use other undefined mosquito-fighting techniques.

It is not clear if the MRCU will be turning to other bio-engineering techniques now available, as the correspondence ends with the departure of Oxitec’s Caribbean consultant, Richard Adey, who was dealing with the Cayman contract but became a casualty of cost-cutting measures by Intrexon, Oxitec’s parent company.

See the redacted correspondence in the CNS Library

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (27)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Happy to see they won’t be wasting ridiculous amounts of money

  2. Anonymous says:

    Interesting to look back at the lawsuit trying to stop the release and claiming Wolbaccia was a better option. Dr. Petrie, in his new role in Florida, now seems to agree. Am I missing something?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes. The lawsuit didn’t claim walbachia was better. There is no actual evidence it is. And Miami is going for an experimental trial of Walbachia for just that reason. – That is, a trial release of generically engineered microbes that will be in the mosquitoes that are biting people. It should send the anti-GM crew off the wall.

      • Anonymous says:

        That is where you are wrong. They sure did on the air – I heard them with my own ears. However, the point cannot be down-played. They were right all along.

        • Anonymous says:

          They made lots of claims ‘on air’ that didn’t stand up in court. Perhaps such as that walbachia will work. (It might. We’ll know after a couple of years of testing. Hope you don’t catch a mosquito-borne disease before then.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am sure that if it had been as successful as claimed we would be going ahead with this at full steam. Instead we will be trying to see if it works in combination with some other method called IVM. Surely that should tell us that it did not work the first time.

    • Anonymous says:

      The question isn’t ‘did it work’ but ‘is it worth it’. That’s a budget question. Like ‘when will we get a new court house?’

      • Anonymous says:

        According to this article the question is still , does it work? the scientists at MRCU don’t seem to think so. Is it worth it is only asked when we know it works but i want to know if it is cost effective. To me it looks like they are now saying it doesn’t work by itself lets see if we can make it work by combining it with some other method. I ask does the other method work by itself; if it does why don’t we just use that. If it doesn’t why are we wasting time and money on two things that are known not to work?

        • Anonymous says:

          Read the FOI documents. I did and do not recall a single one saying ‘we don’t think this works’. All it hints at are questions about level of efficacy, i.e., how much do you have to spend when to get desired suppression of mosquito levels. Which leads to the corollary: what’s the most effective (cost efficient, least likely to give people cancer, etc.) way to control dengue fever mosquitoes.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sounds like you are part of the mozzie team trying to justify the unjustifiable waste that they are.

        • Anonymous says:

          Nope. But I can read and don’t assume.
          question, if the mozzie team are an unjustifiable waste, is that when they are releasing the GM mosquitoes, or when they are saying they may not be effective (for cost) enough, or when they are spraying pesticide on you, or just when they don’t agree with you?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I want to know who these anonymous MRCU scientists are and what they have to say.

  5. Sounds says:

    What a waste and mess. Government is not going to stop messing with people’s lives with this project until they are made to pay for this experiment. Dump this!

  6. 3rd Eye says:

    Why would government even entertain any further dealings with this company and their “fake” mosquitoes in light of all that is known and questioned about this project, its true aims and impact? There should be no further experiments carried out on the people of the Cayman Islands without their consent.

    • Anonymous says:

      What is “known and questioned about this project, its true aims and impact?” – Come on, let your Area 51 conspiracy flags fly at full mast.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sort of like your likely non-scientist mind. If you need to hear the concerns and impacts that were all made known then it is not worth the time.

        Moreover, the greater thing here is that the right of the people in that zone to have to give consent to be a part of a scientific experiment is universal and can never be diminished because of your belief in science or any one else for that matter. I hope they sue government so this never can happen again.

        • Anonymous says:

          So you can’t actually name any concerns and impacts that haven’t all been refuted by ‘scientific minds’. Right. Area 51. Got it.

          Have the people in the zone universally consented (or whatever you want) to being sprayed with chemicals on a regular basis? To being exposed to either GM or chemicals in their imported food? To feeding it to their pets? To wearing it in their clothes?

  7. Mozzie Smakker says:

    I didn’t count them, but there seemed to be as many mosquitoes after the release of the “treated” mosquitoes as there were before the program started. Did our government ever check the true effectiveness of this program?

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t know bout WB, but ever since they did the first release in the East a few years ago, we seem to have loads of huge black mozzies with evil bites. I had never seen them previously.

      • Anonymous says:

        When I lived in West Bay I would agree that the mozzies were bigger and seemed more prevelent. As someone who never noticed any bite or reaction I regularly got numerous huge ones landing on bare skin at dusk. Coincidence?

  8. Anonymous says:

    soooo that why that mosquito down by Super C bar drinking and dancing the night away?!?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like friends doing favors for friends to me.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Finally some good news for once!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Zika seemed to come and go just as fast they released the gm mozzies. Hmmmmm! I say, release the kraken!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Trump lies and lies and lies. I’m tellin’ eveverbody. That is all.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Record arrivals and the Unity gov’t has scaled back the MRCU budget by 30%

  14. Anonymous says:

    Good I’m glad they finally put an end to this fiasco. I find it strange that and island such as this one. who touts itself as such a “God Fearing” jurisdiction, would allow such a group to come in and actually play God with the insects and health of it’s people.

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