Petition calls for halt to GM mosquito release

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.

More than 570 people have signed an online petition calling for the Cayman Islands government to suspend plans to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in the district of West Bay.

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.

The mosquito release is part of a planned multi-phase rollout of a control solution developed by U.K. biotech company Oxitec, which involves releasing “friendly” Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes to help fight the mosquito that transmits diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika. The Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Oxitec plan to begin releasing the mosquitoes this month in West Bay.

The petition, put forward by Caymanians United to Suspend GM Mosquitoes, calls for at least a six-month suspension of the planned release, citing concerns about the transparency of the project and “contradictory information regarding the effects and capabilities” of the genetically modified mosquitoes.

“We, the concerned residents of the Cayman Islands, condemn the decision of the Cayman Islands Government to support the launch and release of the Genetically Modified Mosquitoes project with Oxitec, in collaboration with the MRCU … without first conducting a public consultation with the Caymanian people and the residents of the Cayman Islands,” the petition states.

Dwene Ebanks, who spearheads the opposition movement, said he and others opposed to the project are “uncomfortable” about what they say they have “uncovered” during their own research and believe there is information about the mosquitoes that is not being shared. One concern is that a small number of GM female mosquitoes will be released with the GM male mosquitoes.

Female Aedis aegypti can carry viruses like Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever.

“They said that they were releasing only males, however, when pressed they admitted there would be females released as well,” said Katina Masura Anglin, writing to the Compass on behalf of the Caymanians United group. “If they are releasing the males to mate with the female [Aedis aegypti], why do they need to release female [genetically modified mosquitoes] as well?”

According to Oxitec Cayman Ltd. project manager Renaud Lacroix, a few females “slip through” during the sorting process that is done with a wired sieve, and those that are accidentally released “do not increase the risk” of virus transmission in the release area.

The females that are released are not disease-ridden because they have been bred in the laboratory, Mr. Lacriox said, and they are “unlikely to survive long enough for the virus to develop in them. They have adapted to the laboratory conditions where food and water are freely available and predators absent, so once they are in the environment they do not survive as well as the wild females,” he said, adding that once the mosquito bites someone infected by dengue, Zika, or chikungunya, it takes five to 10 days before they can transmit it to someone else.

The female mosquitoes, like the males, also carry a “self-limiting gene” so their offspring die before reaching adulthood, Mr. Lacriox said.

The Caymanians United group is also concerned by reports that the outbreak of Zika and cases of microcephaly in babies in Brazil were connected to Oxitec’s release of GM mosquitoes there. Several media outlets have circulated this claim which began on a Reddit thread in January, but it has since been refuted by several fact-checkers.

“Regarding the rumors, official and independent bodies have denied them so I will not add any comment,” Mr. Lacriox said, noting that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has stated that microcephaly is caused by Zika, not by Oxitec mosquitoes.

The Caymanians United group is also concerned about the number of mosquitoes that will be released (22 million in the initial rollout) and what they view as the experimental nature of the project.

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  1. I support Dwene on this move, what is going on in this place any how? Just another “Brain storm” from some foreign inventor to suck money out of the island.
    I agree stop it. Never heard of this foolishness during grand ma days and we had mosquitoes galore. Modified mosquitoes? for pete’s sake try stop this foolishness somebody.

  2. I live in West Bay and welcome this experiment. If this is successful it has the potential to save millions of people from disease. We currently release chemicals into our eco-system in order to tackle the problem which is arguably worse. Cayman has the opportunity to play its part in world science and our aim should be to eradicate Aedes aegypti mosquito.

  3. Jason you live in West Bay, and think this experiment has the potential to save millions of people from disease.
    I live in Bodden Town for sixty years and have encountered mosquitoes of all kinds, big ones, small ones, black and grey ones , long nose and big foot mosquitoes, those with teeth and those with no teeth, all creed and kind. They killed cows and horses by smothering them; but never did anyone develop a disease. These diseases only came after some persons began doing just that; playing around with experiments. We never had any Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, nor did we hear anything about modified mosquitoes. Since Dr Giglioli days all these experimental mosquitoes were brought in to our country, just like the iguanas.
    That is our problem on this small island. Too much introducing of this and that from the outside world, and we do not want it.
    Why we do not have mosquitoes thick like back in the day is because all the swamp lands have been filled and hundreds of homes and condos have built on their breeding spots. We do not need any modified mosquitoes because we do not know what baggage they are bringing in diseases. Florida has more mosquitoes than Cayman, take the experiment there.