MRCU signs new $600k deal with Oxitec

| 22/05/2018 | 33 Comments
Cayman News Service, Genetically modified mosquito

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

(CNS): Despite recent revelations that the pilot project using genetically modified male mosquitoes to reduce the Aedes aegypti population fell far short of expectations, the government has signed a new deal with biotechnology company, Oxitec, to continue releasing them. The contract is costing the public purse around CI$588,000 and appears to be not much more than a repeat of the first project. In a government release officials said the release of the GM mosquitoes will take place alongside other management techniques to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the technique.

The new programme will occur in the southwestern area of West Bay, officials said, where the bio-bugs were previously released alongside a second comparator area in southeast West Bay. It will also expand releases of those same mosquitoes into a neighbouring but geographically distinct area to the northwest of the district.

Mosquito Research and Control Unit Director James McNelly said the programme is set to begin immediately with public outreach. He said that in two areas (northwest and southwest) the programme will combine the release of varying levels of Oxitec mosquitoes with MRCU’s traditional ground control measures of inspecting and spraying sources of standing water in which Aedes aegypti might breed.

Inspections will take place at all business and residential premises. The comparator area in the southeast will also benefit from MRCU’s traditional mosquito surveillance and control measures, but the GM mosquitoes will not be released there.

“Within the areas under evaluation we will go door to door to inspect every residence,” McNelly said. “This is a very labour intensive approach and as such we are appealing to interested members of the community to reach out to us to find out how they can help with this process. Fogging operations will continue in all areas as required from both our trucks and planes.”

The evaluation period is expected to run until the end of the year and will be completed before the permit to release the bio-engineered insects expires.

The news that government is spending close to $600,000 on another phase using GM bugs comes after revelations that the scientists at the MRCU were arguing among themselves about the efficacy of the project and that the level of success was nowhere near the claims made by Oxitec, which was formerly UK-based but was recently bought out by a US conglomerate.

Despite the ongoing concerns about potential unintended and unknown consequences of releasing the GM mosquitoes and the much greater than expected release of females that can still bite, the government appears more than willing to continue trying the technique.

Health Minister Dwayne Seymour commented on this issue, despite remaining silent on a catalog of problems relating to his ministry, including challenges at the dump, garbage collection, the so far unexplained disappearance of the dump’s director, as well as suspensions and irregularities at the hospital.

Seymour said the data derived from the new programme would assist in the determination of the most effective, efficient and sustainable tools as MRCU develops its approach to eradicating the mosquito that transmits these diseases.

“If this further evaluation proves the method to be effective, the Cayman Islands will be making significant progress in the battle against this disease vector and may serve as a model for other countries in our region that are struggling to address this public health threat,” the minister said. However, he did not mention the existing data, which appears to show that the previous pilot had largely failed to demonstrate that the technique works.

Health Ministry Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn warned that Cayman could be facing a dengue outbreak over the coming months.

“The Cayman Islands is far from immune to viral illnesses that affect other countries and has already experienced a brief outbreak of Zika in late 2016 and early 2017,” she said. “With the region preparing for a possible outbreak of dengue type 4 this summer, we need to arm ourselves with every weapon at our disposal, including the best scientific information.”

MRCU Assistant Director Research and Development Alan Wheeler, who, according to the documents released by the MRCU, was one of the scientists  who had previously questioned the success and use of the GM mosquitoes, said the new project would evaluate the GM insects alongside other control techniques.

“This will allow us to thoroughly evaluate the technique before implementing plans to expand it to other areas of the island,” he said.

People with questions, comments or concerns can contact MRCU/Oxitec at 949-2557, or by email or

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Category: Health, health and safety

Comments (33)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    For $200,000 a year me and my wife will walk around west bay every dawn and dusk swatting the little furkers. Oh, perhaps another $100,000 danger money

  2. Anonymous says:

    Since when are people so concerned about lowering the aedes aegypti population? They are males that dont bite, bred to reproduce and make offspring that only live 1-2 weeks if my memory serves right. Why argue about a genetically modified mosquito when you go to Fosters a few times a week, to eat genetically modified bananas, grapes, strawberries, potatoes amongst other BS foods and snacks that you know well will harm yourself and even your beloved children? I would rather GM mosquitos any day over the mosquito plane spraying my mangos and any other crops out there that I decide to eat. Come on now, shut up and take one for the team and lets pray these buggers go away. You can take birth control with all those chemicals but worried about GM that we wont eat?

    • Sounds says:

      Same ole scare tactics. Go away. Who is this oxitec or one of the local ego-trip people?

      • Anonymous says:

        Neither, just an educated person that knows a few things and would rather complain about the bigger things than the small. I would love to work for oxitec so I can piss you off with a smirk on the front page of the compass whilst releasing them.

    • Anonymous says:

      @ 2:28pm What youre saying is actually correct..

  3. Anon says:

    Do we have no say in this then? So much for democracy!

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you contacted your reps? You elected them – don’t let them use your own money against your desires. They are elected to fulfil the wishes of the people who elected them.

      • Jack Toler says:

        Yeah, sure. Just go try to talk with your reps. They don’t hear anything but the sound of money.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What a complete waste of money! Again these funds could have been used to buy books for the schools, supplies, teachers, etc!

  5. RICK says:

    Clearly these are expat mosquioes

  6. Anonymous says:

    I don’t get why cayman has to pay… but I like them doing these studies so we can find a soution.

  7. Anonymous says:

    CNS: what is the date of this new agreement and who exactly signed-off on it? Just last week the official position was to wait until the conclusion and evaluation of the existing study and contract before making a decision sometime around year end.

    CNS: The release was sent yesterday. It did not say when the contract was signed.

    • Anonymous says:

      CNS: This is an announcement of the new release program starting imminently, not of a new financial commitment by MRCU or CIG. This is the concluding phase of the pre-existing CI$588,000 contract you reported on last week. It will be done by end of 2018, and an evaluation made, and there is no obligation to renew the contract.

      Map of West Bay Release Areas:

      CNS: The first two paragraphs of the press release sent out from GIS yesterday (22 May):

      GRAND CAYMAN (GIS) – Government and international biotechnology company, Oxitec, have signed a new contract to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of including Oxitec’s mosquitoes within MRCU’s Integrated Mosquito Management (IMM) programme to combat the dangerous, disease-carrying mosquito Aedes aegypti.

      The new programme will occur in the southwestern area of West Bay, where Government and Oxitec previously collaborated on the release of Friendly™ Mosquitoes- non-biting, genetically modified, male mosquitoes- and a second comparator area in southeast West Bay. It will also expand releases of those same mosquitoes into a neighbouring but geographically distinct area to the northwest of the district.

      • Anonymous says:

        Clearly someone at GIS has made a mistake. It’s disappointing to see CNS pouncing on their error to fuel its anti-GMO conspiracists, or to pretend there is some “new” undisclosed or unvetted deal with Oxitec. There is quite a lot at stake with getting this evaluation science completed correctly.

        CNS: At this point, we have nothing to indicate that anything in this article is erroneous other than your anonymous comment. If you actually have the inside knowledge that you claim to have, you should let GIS know so that they can send a correction. Otherwise, I call BS.

        Unless you have your own agenda, what you call “pouncing on their error” is generally called reporting on official statements sent by the Government Information Service. And “or to pretend there is some ‘new’ undisclosed or unvetted deal” – see the paragraph above.

        • Anonymous says:

          Great response CNS

        • Anonymous says:

          The only anti-GMO conspiracist is you. I guess Allan wheeler at MRCU was a conspiracist too? I agree a lot is at stake…a 8 million windfall contract by oxitec. The word is out: the science is faulty no need to get anything else right. No where else in this world could this happen.

    • Anonymous says:

      The “wait and see” official position was in reference to any island wide roll out. The 2018 contact is the “existing study”.

  8. Baily says:

    P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”… and I say, “Why do they get elected?”

  9. Anonymous says:

    Why are we paying them? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? We are providing human guinea pigs for an unproven technique that has already failed once… Too much “may do this” and “possible that”

  10. Anonymous says:

    Yay ..sell us out. Dont want to believe this, its like the news you see in those grand theft auto games. Something not good for you – Passed! Somehing healthy clean and highly beneficial – “Umm…well..ya see sweeteh this wuzzunt passed because dart and…”

    This Govt does not represent the real people of this country who are certainly not star gazers and hypocrites like the current majority.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why is Cayman paying for a private company to test its product? If anything they should be paying Cayman.

  12. Dwene Ebanks says:

    This right here is a complete waste of our funds and a railroading of our rights to not be experimented on by our government. Without informed consent this is contrary to proper processes, including the cartagena protocol of which Cayman is a signatory via the UK, for conducting experiments on HUMAN BEINGS. Why is our government continuing to subject the Cayman people to an experiment? You do not have that right. Dengue will be as much of a threat to us as ZIKA was – and we see how that all played out. If we eliminated every vector from this island, does it eliminate the threat of its arrival to these shores? No it does not. We have open borders. Then the weight and necessity for experiments like this pale and fall in urgency. Why are we paying to be experimented on? Who does the same thing and expect different results? Where is the site specific assessments for these new areas that will be included? Where exactly is the Northwest and SouthEast areas of the district? What are the names of the roads? How often per week and approximately how many of these mosquitoes will be released? Why are our elected officials allowing this to continue despite us learning that the numbers were fudged or suppressed? This entire project is a travesty of justice. It is an insult to the tenets of a good democracy as the people of this country, particularly West Bayers, are subjected to a human experiment and being bitten by genetically modified mosquitoes whether we like it or not. Where am I living again? Just so wrong.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Yes where else can we throw away gov money and have these people laughing at us….

  14. Anonymous says:

    I bet if the Zika virus was still scaring people shitless, people wouldnt say a word about this project.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly right. Yellow Fever, Chikungunya, Zika, Japanese Encephalitis, and several forms of Dengue are all continuous regional threats transferred by the highly-domesticated and specialized Aedes Aegypti vector. All that’s missing is an infected traveller to bring any of these here and start a new domino effect. We need to remain vigilant to remove habitat around homes and use every counter-measure available to limit breeding area so that the inevitable breakouts can be isolated quickly. Inoculation against Yellow Fever is a really good idea, and available from GT Hospital. We have seen from Brazil, Jamaica and Honduras that public outbreaks are only announced weeks in hindsight, with cases vastly under-reported. It’s not a matter of if, but when. 5000 people, 10% of population of Philadelphia died in the epidemic of 1793. The French lost 20,000 in their failed attempt to build the Panama Canal. These are not joke mortality rates.

      Miami among cities at risk from yellow fever spread:

  15. Anonymous says:

    Follow the money! We are being scammed and our leaders appear to be complicit.

  16. West Bay Premier says:

    Why don’t all the people who are involved in this wasting of money and releasing the GM mosquitoes , go and spend a few days inside where they are kept before being released .
    Instead of using everyone else for guinea pigs . If they are trying to get rid of Mac why they are releasing the mozzies in West bay . Then take him too on the few days trial.
    But don’t continue to use everyone else for guinea pigs.

    • Anonymous says:

      Its actually just a bunch of annoying male mosquitos buzzing around, so staying in there isnt real punishnent. Male mosquitos dont bite.

  17. SMH says:

    Why? So much money wasted by MRCU and the ministry that can’t figure out how to collect the garbage. SMH

    • Anonymous says:

      Jon Jon, please don’t let these people brain wash you with rubbish. This money would be better spent if you dropped $600,000.00 in $1.00 bills from the MRCU spray plane over Bodden Town and West Bay.

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