MRCU looks to modify mozzies

The Mosquito Research and Control Unit is considering using genetically-modified Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes to prevent dengue fever in the Cayman Islands.

Director of MRCU Bill Petrie said a final decision had not been made on the project, but it is essentially a new spin on an old technique, where males alone are released.

He said the difference here is that the male mosquitoes are made sterile by genetically modifying them so that they cannot successfully breed with a female.

‘We already have genetically-modified livestock and crops in the Cayman Islands and whereas we consume these products, this will not be the case with the mosquitoes and as such, it is quite a different situation,’ said the director.

Mr. Petrie said the male Aedes Aegypti mosquito cannot bite and lives a very short lifespan, adding that since their eggs will not survive using this new method of control, it is thought that the population of the species would decrease, as would the probability of dengue fever transmission.

‘This will be great if we can get it to work, but we are still in discussions and a pilot study to determine the feasibility of the project would have to be done first.’

Mr. Petrie cautioned however, that any decision would be subject to budget concerns, logistics and priorities.

He said a permit would also have to be obtained from the Department of Agriculture before the treated mosquitoes are released and admitted he did not know how much the undertaking would cost at this point in time.

‘There is no risk that I can see in this exercise,’ said Mr. Petrie, who elaborated: ‘This is actually a technique that is 30 to 40 years old, only now we are using the science of genetics as opposed to radiation and/or chemicals.’

The director also remarked that several other countries were looking at this approach for controlling the Aedes Aegypti mosquito and predicted that it could become a conventional method for keeping their numbers down in the future.

It was pointed out by the director that the introduction of genetically-modified mosquitoes would not detrimentally affect the environment as the species are already found in the Cayman Islands.

Currently the MRCU is also studying the DNA of different types of mosquitoes to observe their resistance to pesticides in an effort to determine what products are most effective.