I wrote about the release of GM mosquitos when they started the first trial in the Cayman Islands about 8 years ago.

Mosquitos are pollinators too

After we posted that article we kept track of what was happening.

In 2015 Genewatch UK published an article titled GM insect factories might become antibiotic-resistant bacteria factories. Their concern was mass production of GM insects in factories, using tetracyclines as an additive in their feed, could lead to drug resistance in their microbiota, in the same way that treating bees with tetracyclines has selected for antibiotic resistance. Oxitec’s GM insects may then disseminate antibiotic resistance when released into the environment in the repeated, largescale releases needed to vastly outnumber wild pest insect numbers.

This is a big deal – the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 700,000 people die each year from antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.

Then just as Florida was thinking of releasing the GM mosquitos Physicians from the area expressed their concerns: These GM insects are programmed to require tetracycline as a maturation factor. If they do not receive the antibiotic in sufficient dosage to penetrate every cell and neutralize the implanted lethal gene, the insects die in early larval stage. If they receive a sufficient dosage, they will live and reproduce.

They asked that nasal swab studies be done to assess pre and post release bacterial resistance.  According to one of the doctors involved the company continued to spend big money marketing the concept but did not run the cheap cultures to soothe residents fears. Physicians Vote No To GM Mosquitos

In January 2017 in the Cayman Islands Oxitec announced The release of some 8 million modified mosquitoes in West Bay has had a significant impact in reducing populations of the disease spreading insects.

In June 2017

In  October 2017 a report was released identifying the success of the project claiming a 62% suppression rate.

An $8 million plan for an island wide rollout of the genetically modified mosquito program was aborted at the last minute in late 2017 amid budget cuts and concerns that the technology has yet to fully prove itself.

Instead government opted for a much smaller-scale deployment, testing the GM mosquitoes in combination with other suppression techniques in a $588,000 trial throughout 2018.

But in May of 2018  a cache of internal emails was released following an open records request. In those communications staff at a management level expressed serious doubts about the impact of the technology in controlling natural populations of the disease-spreading insects. They also expressed concerns about the claims being made on its behalf by British biotech firm Oxitec. The emails state that the report was generated by Oxitec which stood to gain from a deal of close to US $8 million dollar that would expand the project to entire island.

The Revealing and disturbing MRCU Oxitec Emails – Editorial

If it were not for the release of those emails, it seems likely that Oxitec’s claim that its program had led to a “62 percent suppression rate” of the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti population in the West Bay pilot area would have gone unchallenged by government officials. That may well have led to the awarding of a two-year, US$8 million contract to Oxitec based on, at best, incomplete data.

Instead, the government budgeted “only” $940,000 in 2018, essentially for Oxitec to rerun its pilot tests in West Bay from 2016 and 2017.

In November 2018 it was announced that the release of the GM mosquitoes has stopped and no new public funds are committed to the project next year.

It seems like this may be the final chapter in this GM Mosquito story in the Caymans.

https://www.caymancompass.com/2018/11/13/gm-mosquito-release-halted/

 

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