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Genetically Modified Insects for Florida

17.06.2015  |  02:32

Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes are set to be released in Florida.

It’s a move from biotech company Oxitec, who already released GM olive flies into the Cayman Islands environment as a way to combat wild pests that damaged crops.[1] But, as there are concerns for the olive flies pesticide resistance developing into the ‘wild’ populations, the release of GM mosquitos are also posing questions of risk.

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The approach to containing problems in the wild for the GM fly is the same as the mosquito in Florida. Oxitec has developed a ‘kill switch’ that the GM insect can introduce to the wild female during the mating process. In turn, the female offspring mainly die as larvae.

The move to introduce the non-native GM mosquito into Florida, is to curb the rising numbers of dengue fever and chikungunya, both carried and spread by the Aedes mosquitoes. However, though the rise is undoubtedly occurring with both diseases, only 11 patients contracted chikungunya in 2014, and the CDC states that it is rare to find a case of dengue fever in the United States. [2]

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Dengue has emerged as a worldwide problem only since the 1950s. Although dengue rarely occurs in the continental United States, it is endemic in Puerto Rico and in many popular tourist destinations in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands”.[3]

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Some concerns have been raised about the “tinkering” with Mother Nature and the after affects, which potentially will be impossible to reverse once out in the wild. Yet, one study which looks into the effects of GM insects compared to current world situations, has made some interesting evaluations: “Scientists believe that climate change, changes in land use and global trade are all leading to expansions in the ranges and prevalence of many agricultural pests”. [4]

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It raises the question then, why would you introduce a genetically modified insect into an ecology already struggling, without conducting full studies into the consequences? The area of GM insects has little to no rules governing the procedures taking place in the labs. It is also interesting to note that Oxitec has released GM mosquitos into the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil and is developing GM agricultural pests, jointly with Syngenta, the seed company.[5] Furthermore, Oxitec “chose a British Overseas Territory with no biosafety law (Cayman Islands) as the site for the first open releases of GM insects in the world”.[6]


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[1] [Gene Watch UK] Joint Press Release: Non-native strains of genetically modified (GM) insects risk spread of pesticide resistance. Retrieved from http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als%5Bcid%5D=566989&als%5Bitemid%5D=573651

[2] [CDC] Chikungunya virus in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/geo/united-states.html

[3] [CDC] Dengue virus in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/dengue/

[4] [Houses of Parliament: Office of Science and Technology]. Genetically Modified Insects. Retrieved from http://www.inasp.info/uploads/filer_public/2013/04/03/3_handout_1.pdf

[5] Genetically-modified insects: under whose control? Retrieved from http://www.testbiotech.de/sites/default/files/Briefing%20genetically%20engineered%20Insects.pdf

[6] Retrieved from http://www.testbiotech.de/sites/default/files/Briefing%20genetically%20engineered%20Insects.pdf




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