GM Mosquitoes Soon to be Released in Malaysia, Many Unanswered Questions

by jeeg 16. December 2010 05:21

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 
release.

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 
tetracycline.

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.

Biosafety Info

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