Genetically engineered mosquitoes to be released in Grand Cayman

Renaud Lacroix, Tali Cohen and Glen Slade of Oxitec at an information booth at West Bay dock on Thursday. – PHOTOS: TANEOS RAMSAY

Genetically engineered mosquitoes will be released across Grand Cayman in the coming year, starting in West Bay, in an effort to control the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes responsible for spreading Zika, dengue and other viruses.

A 2010 test in East End with the genetically engineered mosquitoes from U.K.-based firm Oxitec eliminated 96 percent of Aedes aegypti in the test areas.

The program releases genetically engineered male mosquitoes that breed with local females.

The male passes on a gene that causes the offspring to die before they reach adulthood and can reproduce again.

Oxitec currently is working in Brazil to control mosquitoes in the areas hardest hit by Zika over the past year.

The rollout in Cayman will start in an area of West Bay in June and, depending on success there, expand through West Bay and George Town in the coming year.

Dr. Bill Petrie, head of Cayman’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit, said his staff recently did an islandwide survey of Aedes aegypti and identified West Bay and George Town as the areas with the highest number of the mosquitoes.

Renaud Lacroix of Oxitec places his hand inside a mesh box with genetically modified mosquitoes to demonstrate that the male Aedes aegypti do not bite.
Renaud Lacroix of Oxitec places his hand inside a mesh box with genetically modified mosquitoes to demonstrate that the male Aedes aegypti do not bite.

He explained that these particular mosquitoes thrive in urban areas. They breed around homes and gardens in standing water, which is often found in clogged gutters, old tires and anything else that collects rainwater.

Premier Alden McLaughlin announced the new program Thursday in the Legislative Assembly.

“I am very proud to say that the Cayman Islands is the only other country in the world where this program will be taking place outside of Brazil, and we are once again leading the way in the advancement of mosquito control measures,” he said.

The premier noted that Cayman has not yet had a case of Zika. “Zika is of particular concern because of its links to birth defects, including microcephaly, and other medical conditions that are currently being monitored and researched,” he said.

Mr. McLaughlin pointed out that the genetically modified mosquito-release program is environmentally friendly as no insecticides are necessary.

Mr. Petrie said the mosquito control staff and Oxitec project managers are launching a public education campaign to make sure people in West Bay understand how the control technique works. They will be manning information booths in the districts this week and next and going door to door to tell people about the initiative. They are also planning a town hall meeting in the coming weeks.

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