GM mosquito release delayed

The planned release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay, scheduled to begin in mid-June, has been put off until this month because of delays in securing a permit, according to the Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Oxitec representatives.

A genetically modified adult mosquito emerges from its pupa. – PHOTO: OXITEC
A genetically modified adult mosquito emerges from its pupa. – PHOTO: OXITEC

The MRCU and British biotechnology firm Oxitec are working on the project to release sterile male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to help fight the species that transmits such diseases as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

The organizations had been waiting to receive a certificate of occupancy for the lab that breeds the mosquitoes, MRCU director Bill Petrie said.

He said the project was “just delayed because of administrative bureaucracy.”

Now that the paperwork is complete, the lab is starting to breed mosquitoes, Oxitec Project Manager Renaud Lacroix said.

He said the mosquito release will begin this month.

The mosquitoes will be released in an area of about 300 acres, with 1,800 residents, in West Bay. Mosquitoes will be released three times a week, with between 100,000 and 200,000 mosquitoes per release. About 1,000 mosquitoes will be released every 54 to 109 yards (50 to 100 meters) along a road.

In June, West Bay opposition MLAs called for the mosquito release plans to be suspended in the wake of a petition from a group called “Caymanians United to Suspend GM Mosquitoes Project” and signed by more than 660 people. The petition cites concerns about the project’s transparency and “contradictory information regarding the effects and capabilities” of the genetically modified mosquitoes, and calls for a six-month suspension of the project.

Premier Alden McLaughlin responded to the West Bay MLAs in a letter, saying that the Cayman Islands “stands to benefit tremendously from Oxitec’s collaboration with the MRCU” and he “regrettably cannot accede” to the request to put the project on hold as he does not believe it would be “in the best interests of the Cayman Islands.”

Mr. Lacroix said Oxitec is continuing efforts to educate the public about the project.

“We will continue community engagement throughout the operation and are always available for people to come to us and ask questions,” Mr. Lacroix said.