GM mosquitoes to be released next week

Renaud Lacroix, left, from Oxitec, and MRCU Director Bill Petrie look over a batch of mosquito larvae being reared for next week’s release.

The release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay is to begin next week, government announced Thursday.

The Mosquito Research and Control Unit, in collaboration with biotechnology company Oxitec, is releasing genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as a preventive measure to control the mosquito responsible for the transmission of viruses such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

Two cases of imported Zika in Cayman were confirmed this week.

“With our first confirmed cases of Zika, which were both imported, it is more important than ever that we get this additional control in place to help prevent any local transmission of mosquito-borne viruses,” MRCU Director Bill Petrie said in a press release. “We cannot stop mosquito-borne viruses from reaching our shores, but this technique will allow us to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti to help effectively prevent transmission.”

The MRCU and Oxitec plan to release the genetically modified male mosquitoes, which do not bite, to mate with local female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The genetic modification, according to Oxitec, means the offspring will die before they reach adulthood and will not be able to mate.

The release is scheduled to begin on July 14, or “soon after that” depending on the weather and other environmental conditions, according to the press release.

The MRCU plans to release the mosquitoes over 300 acres in West Bay between Watercourse Road, Powell Smith Lane, Rev. Blackman Road and Hell Road. One hundred to 200 “pots,” each containing approximately 1,000 male mosquitoes, will be released three times a week.

The MRCU said it plans to continue the release in West Bay for nine months and then roll out the mosquito release across Grand Cayman. The Sister Islands do not have Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, according to the MRCU.

Oxitec has previously released the same GM mosquitoes in areas of Brazil that have been hit particularly hard by Zika.

In Cayman, the MRCU said the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environment and the National Conservation Council reviewed the project and gave official approval for the mosquito release.

“I remind the public that this technique has been through all the evaluation and approval stages relevant to the Cayman Islands,” said Mr. Petrie. “This is an operational roll-out at a time when we are facing a public health imperative.”

Zika can cause severe birth defects in babies born to infected mothers. The virus is also linked to other serious illnesses, such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder that can lead to total paralysis.