GM mozzie trial in WB may have failed

| 15/05/2018 | 67 Comments

The Oxitec van carries the GM mosquitoes

(CNS): Documents and correspondence released to GeneWatch, a UK-based NGO, under a freedom of information request appear to show that there is no evidence that the controversial release of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in West Bay by Oxitec in co-ordination with the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) made any impact on the targeted pests. GeneWatch pieced together annual reports as well as documents, in particular email correspondence, released under several FOI requests over several months that all seem to point to a failed project, which was released in a briefing report Monday. 

Correspondence has shown that scientists at the MRCU have been asking questions for some time about the lack of evidence to support the claimed success and reduction in mosquitoes in the control area. The researchers also said in emails that the public needed to know the results of the research and analysis for the West Bay pilot project, which has caused considerable controversy from the outset.

The latest summary of the evidence from GeneWatch also shows that tens of thousands of female GM mosquitoes, which can bite, were also released, despite claims by Oxitec that only a tiny amount of female mosquitoes were ever accidentally included.

CNS contacted the MRCU and the health ministry, which has responsibility for it, and our enquiries were acknowledged. Official said that an announcement about the project will be forthcoming shortly as well as more details responding to the GeneWatch briefing.

The release of the GM mosquitoes was confined to West Bay and was designed to allow the scientists to measure the impact, but the original claims that after time the mosquitoes could be virtually wiped out, reducing populations of Aedes aegypti by over 90%, have proved to be an exaggeration. The GeneWatch report shows that MRCU scientists concluded that there was no significant reduction in the numbers in West Bay.

GeneWatch stated that the Oxford-based Oxitec, which is now owned by US company Intrexon, has made claims that are not supported by the published evidence from any of the countries where their GM mosquitoes have been released to date. That organisation also raises concerns that the inadvertent release of large numbers of biting female mosquitoes during the experiments may even increase the risk of diseases spreading between local people.

“If Oxitec’s claims are not supported by the evidence, this raises serious questions about due diligence and about whether members of the public, mosquito control units, health ministries and Intrexon’s investors are being misinformed about the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of this approach,” said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. “Funding new technologies that do not work wastes money and puts lives at risk by diverting limited resources.”

While there have been significant concerns about the release, with West Bay residents challenging the process in the courts because of public health and environmental concerns, the actual cost to the public purse in Cayman has been relatively low. Officials told CNS that most of the support for the Oxitec work was supplied in kind by MRCU. Government has not made any payments so far directly to the firm but it has paid some staff expenses.

Earlier this year government announced that the planned national roll-out of the bio-engineered mosquitoes was being shelved, and that while the West Bay pilot programme would continue, the MRCU would be looking at other options. The claim was that budget restrictions had stopped the planned national release but the GeneWatch report suggests that issues over efficacy and the unfulfilled claims by Oxitec may be the real reason.

See report, ‘Failed in the Field’, in CNS Library

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (67)

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  1. Zika Army says:

    Yes Fair and Balance a catalogue of failures and incompetence and other questionable decision making bordering on misconduct, yet the silence is deafening no calls on here to resign yet the Port Director is villainized and no post or Mokes mouthpieces praising him. Only a constant drum roll of complaints and assertions like a condemned a man headed to the gallows. When infact we should be very very careful with exactly who and what entity we have given control of our mosquito eradication program to. In fact Oxitec was bought by the Intrexon Corporation a synthetic biology company based in Germantown MD in August 2015 for 160 million. Yes Cayman bigger things are at play here yet our so called leadership appear oblivious or are they??? Dr Petrie surely wast not. Weaponized mosquitoes are not beyond the realm of possibilities now either.

  2. Paper trails says:

    Follow the money!

  3. Fair and Balanced says:

    This is the same ministry, with the same head person ahearn, that has problems with garbage collection, problems with Ezzard and Public Accounts Committee and now success with GM mosquitoes turns out to be very questionable. Will this be covered with another soothing apology from the deputy governor or he doesn’t want to make it too obvious to Ezzard who’s being protected with apologies?

  4. Dwene Ebanks says:

    If this was not so serious it would be funny. The CIG made the west bay people a lab rat. They ignored our plea for informed consent and used the machinery of government to degrade and call us liars. They dismissed us for asking questions and placing seeking the truth on what they were presenting. The courts, by way of Judge Mangatal, completely failed the people in her judgment and she knows it. It was a missed opportunity to hold the government o the freedoms in our constitution and the lawful requirement to proper process. She did not want to ruffle the government’s feathers in my opinion. Dr. Petrie, who this country held up as a trophy, up and left us and he along with others should be called to task for the level of deception they brought on the Cayman people. I am privy to the in-fighting at MRCU from go. It is obvious that he was looking for the scientific “white” feather in his cap and oxitec wanted millions on our “bites” and at the expense of our health. I told unna so, bring no joy for me. Perhaps the CIG should be considering a news release about how we will never be so reckless again on the Cayman people. We are certainly considering our options.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dwene. I have to correct you on your criticism of Judge Mangatal. The difficulty for her, is that she had to apply the law as was set out in the legislation. The National Conservation Law is (and remains) inadequate and at the time, had no supplemental regulations which could be challenged. If you read her judgment, she stated that such Regulations had to be put in place and that the West Bay trial should be conducted with ‘independent monitoring’.

      Regulations were then quickly drafted and the trial continued. But, what is clear, is that the West Bay releases and results were never independently monitored. Oxitec authored the report containing the results and its was only because Dr. Alan Wheeler had some ‘guts’ and stood up to his boss(es), that the trust has now emerged.

      What we need now, is one of the MLA’s to question:
      (a) whether a contract been signed with Oxitec to permit a second West Bay trial from GMMs; and,
      (b) why has government purportedly agreed to pay Oxitec $940,000 to conduct this second trial? If Oxitec was to continue their ‘experiment’, let them pay for it!!!

      • Dwene Ebanks says:

        Thank you for your thoughts. I would simply say this: that’s one of the reasons we took them to court! It was to stop this deception! It was not give them the opportunity to put in-place what we brought them to the courts for (post) in the first instant. The judge then essentially gave them the green light on grounds they did not have at that time. That is so fundamentally wrong to justice and we see now damaging.

        Agreed on Mr. Wheeler and the expectation you proffer for a MLA – although I hasten to add: the latter I will not hold my breath.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Glad you have a doctorate and can question Helen Wheller? Moreover I would believe an independent person with nothing to gain any day. Also, stop attacking the messenger and realize we were duped.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think we should take the fact that no giant, poisonous, super skeets came out of this as a victory, and just move on to the next boondoggle.

    • Anonymous says:

      10:57pm, oh no you don’t! Don’t sweep this under the carpet.

      Accountability please.

      In the same way that we publicly beat Clement Reid to death and shamed his kids, family and friends. Why not here?

      NO, I would not wish that treatment on anyone.

      But at least, hold Ahearn, Petrie, Barnard accountable for their actions.

      • Anonymous says:

        You are fair thinking. This is a public health concern and the truth about this Report was withheld from the public.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Suckers ~ it was obvious from the beginning, easy money by easy brain washing….Ozitec was brilliant? lol

  8. Anonymous says:

    Before making any negative comments on the MRCU scientists I think you should read the emails. They are available at

    I think the emails highlight why Dr. Wheeler was overlooked for the Director position at MRCU. Sometimes doing what is right is not the best thing for your career.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The dataset for the 52% increase is mosquitos comes from the MRCU’s own trap stats. The weekly catch in the treatment area was 1.72 insects (keep in mind that’s insects per week per trap) compared to 1.13 in the untreated area. I don’t know how anyone can take any of these stats seriously when the incidence of mosquitos wandering into these isolated and limited traps is so small to begin with. The problems seem to be more to do with the scientific method than necessarily derivative of bad Oxitec science. They also moved the release areas – effectively changing the experiment midstream.

  10. Anonymous says:

    From the beginning, the campaign against the release of GMM’s was founded on alleged mis-information being conveyed to the general public – even to the extent, that a video of the only public meeting in West Bay, was edited to remove difficult questions from the audience.

    The campaign also questioned the efficacy of GMMs and the costs. Bill Petrie relied on figures of a 90%+ reduction in Aedes aegypti population to ‘sell’ the project to the public. Astonishingly, although Oxitec ‘authored’ the MRCU report upon which the National Conservation Council relied upon in making its initial decision to announce an island-wide roll-out, even they could not exaggerate beyond 62% success – and even that figure is challenged by MRCU scientists as not being based on true scientific data.

    Oxitec writing the MRCU report – so much for ‘independent monitoring’ of results which was a requirement of the World Health Organisation.

    Alan Wheeler, the MRCU scientist who disputed the results being presented by Oxitec, deserves a lot of praise for ‘sailing against the tide’ of his former boss, Bill Petrie. Now Petrie is promoting the alternative Wolbachia method in Miami Dade – which he previously dismissed on the TV debate shown on Cayman 27.

    The question now is, what is the future of GMMs in the Cayman Islands?. Well it looks like Government, despite the poor results from West Bay, is going to pay Oxitec $940,000 to conduct a second trial in WB……why? If Oxitec want to prove their technology (having already being given an opportunity to do so), then Oxitec should pay for it!!!

    • Beaumont Zodecloun says:

      Exactly. Especially since it is no secret that the ‘experiments’ are being performed here, because we are geologically isolated…… you know……… just in case it goes wonky……..

      We should have never agreed to an experimental technology. Now that we have and it hasn’t come through, I think at the very LEAST Oxitec should pony up the dollars to do a doover, or go home. Why should WE pay for being experimental subjects?

      Does that sound over-dramatic? Well, ask yourself this: Do YOU really know all the ramifications of the GMM? No? Well, neither do I, and I have read about them extensively. I don’t fancy being a test subject, but I really don’t fancy having to pay for it. 🙁

  11. Anonymous says:

    I would like to ask any government officials who had prior knowledge of this scam to come clean before the people.

    Pray tell us who was really pulling the strings behind this debacle and make a good plea bargain.

    This “unity” government should be brought down. It is vile and corrupt.

  12. Anonymous says:

    There were many of us who raised concerns early on. We were labelled as Luddites and conspiracy theorists.

    To be honest, I thought the press was very pro-gm mozzies, but credit where credit is due, the same press has reported pertinent facts and now we can see what was going on behind the scenes.

    Ahern and Barnard have demonstrated a very serious lack of judgement and should be relieved of any official duties immediately.

    It is the politicians or diplomats who have empowered these two that also need to be removed.

    I am sure we can count on Mr. McLaughlin’s full cooperation?

    Perhaps we should bring in Mr. Clifford to root these people out? He is doing sterling work at Immigration and Customs.

    • Mokes-for-all says:

      Before you call for heads to roll, perhaps getting a full grasp of all the facts and context would be the right thing to do. Knee-jerk reactions based on hearsay and misinformation are not the way to go.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who made monies by promoting this ridiculous project?

    • Mokes-for-all says:

      Sounds like someone with an axe to grind against those two ladies. Ozzy, is that you?!

  13. Annon says:

    I would like to see some commenters suggest a better idea than what is being tried. When a serious epidemic of mosquito borne disease robs you of a loved one before his or her time perhaps you will be a bit more sympathetic to those who are working to avert this otherwise inevitable disaster. Any of the thousands of visitors, returning Caymanians, foreign workers and illegal immigrants entering the island might well carry a deadly pathogen transmissible another by just two mosqito bites.

    • West Bay Premier says:

      The whole program sounds like a mozziescam that was to kill dollars and not mosquitoes .

    • Anonymous says:

      hmmmm what would be better than spending 8 million on a product that had been shown not to work? How about anything else or nothing at all? Both are better alternatives. How many Caymanians could you employ to go to every yard on the island and kill them 1 by 1?

  14. Anon says:

    *unsuspecting. Sorry. Typo.

  15. Anon says:

    Quite honestly, since this ‘experiment’ on us unsuspection folks, it has gotten worse! Shame on our Government!

  16. Anonymous says:

    We clearly need to jail those people who allowed this bull$!#& to go on and for us to be used as Guinea Pigs for Biological warfare experiments. Serious points were raised by HSM lawyers and their attendees at their meetings at Tower it appears no answers were provided.

    • West Bay Premier says:

      I would say that too that they need to be jailed , or make sure that they have to find another job after the next election making minimum wage , cause that’s about all some of them could get/worth outside LA .

  17. Anonymous says:

    They just created more mosquitoes.

    • Anonymous says:

      They create males and males dont bite, whats so horrible about that?

      • Anonymous says:

        “That organisation also raises concerns that the inadvertent release of large numbers of biting female mosquitoes during the experiments may even increase the risk of diseases spreading between local people.”

  18. Anonymous says:

    When the government puts their interests before the public’s – the system isn’t workin for the people.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to know the truth and not guesses. I hope it worked as it did in East End so we can implement it island wide.

  20. Anonymous says:

    What the hell is a “mozzie”?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Just more Government waste… Can be solved by cheap cans of mozzie repellant. I swear these people meet once a month to burn money in a big bonfire pit on the beach.

  22. BELONGER says:

    Can we please have a comment from Dr. William “Bill” Petrie who left the Cayman Islands some months ago as to what the hell was going on during his watch at MRCU ??

    He was promoting Oxitec methods on TV and in the courts but now there is clear evidence that even the report submitted to Government Information Services – did not come from MRCU officials but came directly from Oxitec itself.

    This report was to support Oxitec getting an $8 – 9 Million dollar contract from the C.I. Government despite failing results in the West Bay district where all these GM mosquitoes were released, most of them female mosquitoes and not males.

    Our people were put at risk plain and simple. By the way, did anyone hear about any of the pregnant women in the Cayman Islands who supposedly had Zika, have babies that were deformed or affected at birth ?

    Fake News and we all paid for it big time !

  23. Anonymous says:

    failure!!! just like rest of government….

  24. Anonymous says:

    Scam alert ?

  25. Anonymous says:

    I think the mosquitoes have grown in size and in numbers since this was done. I had one buzzing around my head last night and for a moment I thought it was the police helicopter.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have been saying this about the bigger size (evil bite) black ones that are around the Eastern districts since the first EE release years ago. Never saw or felt them before Oxitec.

  26. Anonymous says:

    People are just against what they cant comprehend. I think it is working because since they started their is less aedes aegypti i the hell road area. Their was so much before I used to feed them to my Daddy Longlegs for fun.

  27. Anonymous says:

    This stinks to me! Who was it that initiated this program in West Bay?

  28. Anonymous says:

    The WB bobo’s poached them all out.

  29. A Concerned Citizen says:

    When will the Cheif Officer of this Ministry be held responsible for her failed leadership. Jennifer Ahearn have a record of failing just about every entity under her Ministry yet the Deputy Governor continues to praise her. I guess loyalty instead of competence is what he values. This will not stop until she cost the government more millions and Caymanians more jobs. Department of Environmental Health is already costing Caymanians jobs as her and the DG blame the poor garbage men who are overworked and underpaid which leads to low morale and therefore increased sick days. This is a tactic to outsource garbage collection which appears to be supported by both Jennifer and Franz. This will lead to more unemployed Caymanians which leads to many other social issues including children going without lunch. Funny this is what his DG Run was about this year. Well here is a good way to help eradicate hunge DG by just simply keeping Caymanians employed. Then HSA have their security team on leave and paying a private firm that don’t employ Caymanians (due to their low wages offered). Then we allow foreign companies to scam us into projects like this which could have possible harm and additional cost to the Caymanian people and overall general public due to not doing proper research. But wait… This Chief Officer have a history of not reading contracts before releasing the people’s funds such as the CarePay fiasco. Oh but I guess her support to the DG Run and loyalty to the DG is worth more than his lowly paid Caymanian Civil Servants. I do believe that their are good performing leaders in the Civil Service but only the loyal ones are rewarded. It appears the Cayman Islands Government is a TV show and the DG is the lead actor. After all everything is named after him DG Run, DG Award, etc. He is only here for the show and not the real action that is required to make the Cayman Island Government a true success story and not just quoting fancy words like “World-Class”. How about you be a World-Class leader and humble yourself and do the right thing for once by terminating these poor leaders. If you say your not willing to do this then it’s obvious you are part of the problem and need to work on being World-Class. The Civil Service or DG Show I’m sure you prefer that name, will only prosper when you eliminate the weeds and water (upskill, train, invest) in your hard working Civil Servants for the right reasons and not to reward loyalty or to gain self praise. The public is paying a lot of money to see your show and deserves to have A List actors. You can do this Franz! Make the Civil Service great again! Do the right thing and if you can then you know what you need to do.

    • Anonymous says:

      From what I have seen, DG Manderson is doing his utmost best to improve the civil service. You are confusing sociability and genuine enjoyment of being a leader and being with his staff and organising events with him being ‘only here for the show’. It is so nasty to call it the DG show – why is that necessary? We are allowed to celebrate successful people and positions – or should we take down the signs and plaques now of all roads and buildings with names of the Caymanian people alive and deceased whom we celebrate?

      Likewise, regarding CO Ahearn being a leader with DG5K and her ‘support to the DG Run etc’ … being a good CO and a good 5K charitable event leader – these are not mutually exclusive! It is perfectly acceptable to spend time doing your job and also taking a small part in volunteering to lead charitable events. A lot of companies in the private sector also allow their staff to spend time and participate in charities. It is called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and encouraged worldwide. It warms up the workplace and brings people closer together.

      Some departments and statutory authorities are failing not because of their Chief Officer or Minister (remember many are shuffled around under various different Chief Officers after elections every four years), but because some of the leaders unfortunately fit the “Peter Principle” and the resultant incompetent leadership at the department or statutory authority / government company level. It probably takes several years to undo or fix poor leadership at the entity level and the DG seems to want to make accountability and fixing these entities a matter of course. It will take time. Be patient, be supportive, expect the best, be accountable. A lot of really good changes have already been put into place across CIG – can we not be more positive while still demanding accountability? Yes – again the two are not mutually exclusive.

      Have a good look at each Ministry and you will see really well run entities and poorly run entities represented in the same Ministry. Likewise, departments may have really well run sections and then poorly run sections. In turn, sections may have some really good individuals and some really poor performers. All have various – good, bad, and all manner of in between. Private sector companies also. It takes time to fix problem entities and sections and companies and if heads rolled at the top constantly there would be no one left to lead anything, and not much in the way of inspiration to take up the mantle, because people would be so concerned about being personally attacked.

      Can we not address concerns without getting personal and nasty? Can we be supportive while insisting on accountability?

      • Mokes-for-all says:

        I wish I could add 30 likes to this post – finally, logic and reason, clearly presented, without any sensationalism. More of this type of poster please.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Helen Wallace, a career mathematician, was never going to reach any other conclusion. Oxitec had stated very early on that there could be an acceptable error rate of 1-2%, which is 10-20,000 per million. As it is a screening system based on body size (with males being smaller) those stunted females that get through are not necessarily capable of flight or survival to their second blood meal (in prep for egg production). She’s likely disappointed that Cayman hasn’t experienced a concurrent spike in microcephaly cases to allow her to revel in, “I told you so’s”. For those that actually live in the tropics, these are serious health threats, and we must continue to try and refine every counter measure that makes sense. The science on this is pretty good. It’s just expensive if we had to pay, and we didn’t.

    • Anonymous says:

      Oxitec did not make any claim of that nature. Who is this Petrie, Lacrox, Nemo or the few local ladies who supported this project all up and down the radios?

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