MRCU to stop releasing GM mosquitoes

| 12/11/2018 | 35 Comments
Cayman News Service

Image from the Oxitec promotional video explaining the GM mosquito programme

(CNS): The Mosquito Research and Control Unit has admitted that it has stopped the release of Oxitec’s genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Grand Cayman, claiming that it is moving into a monitoring phase just a few months after it entered a deal with the bio-engineering firm in May.

The admission came in a press release from Government Information Services that failed to detail the reasons for stopping the GM project, which government had originally promoted as a potential silver bullet for tackling the invasive but entrenched species, which can carry a host of unpleasant and dangerous diseases.

The project appears to have fallen short and officials confirmed that the release of insects has already stopped, which is earlier than originally intended.

Last week, Cayman Marl Road published an unverified and unsourced blog post indicating that Oxitec was leaving the Cayman Islands, shutting down its operations and laying off all its staff because the technology did not work and that there had been a significant increase in the mosquitoes in West Bay,

Cayman News Service contacted both the MRCU and Oxitec about the allegations, but despite brief denials by both regarding the accusations and an acknowledgement of the CNS enquiry and questions, it was not until Saturday that an official release was issued. That release indicated that the project was coming to end but suggested some staff would remain at the unit “interpreting and assessing the data” from the last five-month pilot.

The MRCU said the overall populations of all mosquitoes in the West Bay area “have remained unexpectedly low this season”, but did not say whether that related to the MRCU’s traditional eradication work or because of the Oxitec bio-bugs.

In a release that was very unclear about the conclusions of the project, MRCU Director James McNelly said the design was sound and the collaboration positive.

“As intended, this programme provided both Government and Oxitec with valuable information that we can use going forward,” Dr McNelly said. “The project has given us valuable insight into how Oxitec’s approach might be integrated with our conventional tools. It also allowed us to monitor the population dynamics of another container-inhabiting mosquito that is a secondary vector of the diseases transmitted by Aedes aegypti. This is the Asian Tiger mosquito also known as Aedes albopictus.

The project cost government $588,000 and the MRCU said it was now considering a no-cost collaboration in 2019.

Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen thanked the government for the opportunity to assess how the company’s technology might best be used alongside MRCU’s integrated control programme in the Cayman Islands environment.

“This project will help shape how we can build new interventions in the future,” he said. “We applaud MRCU’s willingness to pilot new, innovative tools that can play a role in combating this disease-spreading mosquito. It is efforts like this that will help to eliminate this dangerous public health threat, and we look forward to future collaborations.”

Nevertheless, it remains unclear how effective the project, which involved the release of millions of genetically modified insects into the environment, really was and whether the reason to curtail the programme related to a cost or efficacy issue.

For some time now, the MRCU has been battling with the increasing resistance of the Aedes aegypti to conventional larvicides and so began looking at experimental alternatives. The original partnerships with Oxitec began more than eight years ago in 2010, when the company conducted an experimental release in East End. This caused considerable controversy because, although it was not done secretly, government failed to publicise the pilot widely and attempted to play down the experimental nature.

The firm’s return to Cayman in 2016 to launch a full-scale release in West Bay caused considerable public concern and legal action was taken by local people. Although this failed to stop the release, it did cause a delay.

While there has been evidence of some limited success in suppressing the mosquito, the project appeared to have fallen short and has also faced a number of glitches including issues regarding import licences and allegations that the number of bio-modified female insects, which can bite, was far higher than expected.

See full release from the health ministry here

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (35)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Who turned out to be the biggest suckers, MRCU or the mosquitoes? So long and thanks for all the cash.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Regardless of how it came to be, daytime Aedes Aegypti populations are down, thanks to efforts from the MRCU. I appreciate their willingness to be at the fore and use every tool in the toolbox to get that result…even if it’s just educating the public on why it’s a good idea to empty buckets, dispose of old tires, and other property litter.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Mostly rubbish comments. I live in west bay and this year I was bitten once by a mosquito. So I think the oxitec programme was a tremndous success.

    Thqnk you CIG for trying and actually thinking outside the box.

    • Anonymous says:

      Your blood is poisonous to mosquitos.
      We all know some people get eaten alive while others hardly ever.

      • Anonymous says:

        @ 2:42 pm youre an idiot. I live near a piece of land in west bay thats about a quarter mile wide and length in diameter and it used to be disgusting how the mosquitos would be out day and night, now they are just here and there. Im thankful for the project it helped out alot. People should not even complain about still being bitten after or during the project because cayman has around 35 different mosquitos, and they were trying to get rid of one that carries diseases. Most people are just ignorant to any change that will help them in the future. Thanks Oxitec you got in a good run. Bug Lyfe!

    • Anonymous says:

      My wife gets massive welts from mosquito bites, and they seem to prefer her when out and about.

    • Hafoo says:

      You need to get out of that box,before you start talking bull.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Were they Modified?
    Who checked?
    It was laughable from the inception.
    Foolishness for money.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I wish people would actually realise that this wasn’t a bad thing. Too bad we will never be able to say we were at the forefront of helping defeat the most deadly insects in the world.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just like the risk they are willing to take with our George Town harbour and seven mile beach. No one has been able to tell us that there is no risk. Bring on the Referendum ASAP.

  7. Jacky Boatside from Old Bush says:

    Stop using this oxitec rubbish it’s name is Intrexon Our fool fool gowerment and it’s so called big projected surplus$$ has used us as Ginnypigs in a biological warfare project weaponizing mosquitoes.However we can see the testing area of West Bay has had dismal or negative results because it’s leader is still running this rinky dink lying good for nothing Government

  8. Anonymous says:

    It was an experiment, they used us to experiment on. They had no previous facts, no data, nothing. They came down here and our stupid ass government paid them hundreds of thousand of our dollars to experiment on us! Imagine that! Now they are going back with data showing what not to do. They will tweak it and move on to some other unsuspecting island and do it all over again.

    • Anonymous says:

      We as Caymanians better start becoming more educated on how this mordern world is running, especially in the field of scientific research! And the human species will always be the ultimate research product in that process! This scientific project was not only geared towards how these mosquitoes could only neutralise dengue carrying mosquitoes but on a more frightening scale us as human beings how we interacted with them.Are we as West Bayers was aware of the many sceintific watchdog organizations that was against this type of scientific experiment being carried out in a human populated area and without any previous proven evidence that this experiment works and what affect it had on humans! It was us also being used as laboratory animals so to speak! And the most ironic thing we paid them to do a scientific research program on us!I have lived in mordern thinking communities and nothing likes this could ever take place on such a large scale without tested and unbiased scientific evidence and facts that it works! What is so concerning, is what and when will be the next experiment on us as a people.

  9. Questions about the safety of the antibiotic dependent insect technology still exist. Watch your antibiograms for release area vs rest of Caymans. I personally briefed EPA reviewers on the concern in their Washington DC Headquarters. Remember physicians in the USA petitioned for culture testing.

    Misuse of antibiotics breeds resistant bacteria and fungus. MRCU emails released earlier in year point to a mold (fungus) issue in the production area. Mold = fungus or yeast. Could the technology be flawed. Humans cannot get antibiotics whenever they want for that reason. These insects are bathed in enough to enter every cell in their bodies and turn a genetic switch. How do they call that an insignificant amount of antibiotic? Resistant infections are their own crisis in everyday practice of medicine. Even suggesting this got a stern rebuke from the Ministry. I am not sure why the Ministry so cooperative then the rebuke.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The program put us all at risk. Perhaps it was a small, calculated risk, but let us not pretend that it was an experiment.

    An experiment for which we paid. Of course Oxitec is leaving. GM mozzies released, no measurable negative impact, and all services well compensated for. Mission Accomplished.

    Next stop: Perhaps they can sell Florida on the same concept; I doubt it, as research is more extensive than here, and legislation is more restrictive.

    Failed experiment. I hope no negative consequences appear from it. Then, we can say we paid the fare and survived the ride.

    • Anonymous says:

      We told ona so, yes many Caymanians protested this experiment which we knew was not desirable as no one could speak to possible risks and mitigation with any degree of confidence. It just seemed like another concocted scheme to take our money.

    • Anonymous says:

      You guys know you’re not exactly Edward Jenner material.

      Anything that could help control mosquitos without resorting to chemicals is great.

      You not sure about genetically modified stuff? Well stop eating American produce too, as plenty of that is GM.

      To summarize, chill out. I’m disappointed that this may not have worked out. Hopefully they’ll be back.

      • Anonymous says:

        Concur times 500.

      • Anonymous says:

        Actually most American produce is not transgenic, only soy, corn, sugar beets and rapeseed are found in high amounts, then a little papaya from HI. Most produce is not transgenic, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, all varieties of lettuce, most lemons, oranges, most apples, most sweet peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, plantain, mango, limes, pineapple, grapes, pears, melons, onions, most herbs, yams, asparagus, avocado, berries, beans, red beets, mushrooms, kiwi, nectarines, etc., etc., etc.

        Perhaps you meant “processed foods”?

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