Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Safety Concerns On Genetically Modified Mosquitoes To Be Released

GE Mosquitoes Soon to be Released in Malaysia, Many Unanswered Questions Remain

Malaysia is on the brink of field testing GE mosquitoes in a small town in the

state of Pahang, a short distance from Kuala Lumpur. Preparations are said to be

underway to release the GE mosquitoes, first, in an uninhabited area and

subsequently, in an inhabited area. Another proposed site for the field

experiment is in the state of Melaka.

This is despite an outpouring of concern by scientists, civil society

organizations, local inhabitants and individuals who have expressed their

reservations with regard to the health and environmental effects of this

untested GE organism. Furthermore, the lack of transparency with regards the

manner in which the process of field testing is conducted is also an issue of

concern. As of date it is unclear if the inhabitants of the proposed site have

given their consent, which is required under the terms and condition for the


Under the field trial, genetically engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

(OX513A) will be released and studied and if the experiment is successful, the

GE mosquitoes may later be used as part of a programme to curb dengue in

Malaysia, a disease which is currently rampant in the country. The GE mosquitoes

are genetically engineered to include two new traits: fluorescence and

conditional lethality. The fluorescence trait acts as a marker for the GE

mosquitoes. When the GE male mosquitoes mate with females in the wild, the

conditional lethality trait will be passed on to the offspring and the resulting

mosquito larvae will die, provided this happens in the absence of the antibiotic


The GE mosquitoes is a product of Oxitec, a biotech company based in the UK. The

company will be working with the Malaysian Institute of Medical Research whose

application to conduct the field trial was approved by the National Biosafety

Board. Oxitec had conducted its first experimental study using the same OX513A

strain of Aedes aegypti in the Cayman Islands. However, experts have doubts as

to the sustainability of the initiative and have called for a full, long-term

assessment of the Cayman trials, especially to identify any unintended effects,

before consideration of release anywhere else in the world.

As Malaysia prepares to embark on a similar venture, many other questions about

the GE mosquitoes remained unanswered. These include: Will the GE male

mosquitoes actually be able to mate with the female wild mosquitoes outside a

controlled environment? How certain it is that the GE mosquitoes will not cause

a new disease in the future or acquire the ability to transmit other diseases?

Who will take responsibility in the event untoward effects happen as a result of

the experiment?

Given the uncertainties and concerns relating to the technology, health,

environment and so forth, many have called for a rethink of the project and

suggested that other less risky methods of dengue control be considered and

stepped up.

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister,
10400 Penang,
Email: twnet@po.jaring.my
Website: www.biosafety-info.net and http://www.twnside.org.sg/

TWN Biosafety Info

Title : GE Mosquitoes Soon to be Released in Malaysia
Date : 13 December 2010

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