Saturday, December 11, 2010

Unreliable GM Mozzies flying around in Malaysia now?

This is worrying. Using an unreliable source to promote environment disaster? With poor management in Bolehland - where stadium could collapsed and parliment that leaked, tell me how not to worry? I believe these GM mozzies already being released (Read 2nd article below). Only time will tell....

GeneWatch UK Press Release
14th December 2010
For immediate release

British Overseas Territory used as private lab for GM mosquito company

A new GeneWatch UK briefing questions the role of the British scientific establishment in the release of three million genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands earlier this year (1). The secret experiments were revealed by UK biotech company Oxitec last month, which claimed misleadingly that the mosquitoes were sterile. The GeneWatch briefing shows that no public consultation was undertaken on potential risks and informed consent was not sought from local people. Oxitec is a spin-out company from Oxford University and the trials were funded by the Wellcome Trust: neither body appears to have required any ethical oversight before using Grand Cayman for the trials.

Oxford University is an investor in Oxitec, which it expects to generate income for it in the future. The company also owes £2.25 million to a multi-millionaire venture capital investor in Boston, which it is due to pay back by 2013. The company is losing £1.7 million a year and its business plan requires it to commercialise its products and charge ongoing fees for continual releases of the GM mosquitoes, which are intended to reduce the transmission of the dengue virus. Former science minister Lord Drayson and former Royal Society President Lord May both acted as advisors to investors in the company.

GeneWatch UK’s Director, Dr Helen Wallace said: “The British scientific establishment is acting like the last bastion of colonialism, using an Overseas Territory as a private lab. There is no excuse for funding trials without public consultation or ethical oversight to help out a spin-out company that is heavily in debt”.

Trials of the same GM mosquitoes are expected in Malaysia soon. The biggest risk with the company’s approach is that a different, more invasive species of mosquito (the Asian Tiger mosquito) may move into the ecological niche vacated by the species it is targeting (the Yellow Fever mosquito), potentially transmitting more diseases and becoming harder to eradicate. The company has created GM Asian Tiger mosquitoes with a view to marketing these in future to tackle this expected problem.

“People in Malaysia should make their own decision about how to best tackle dengue,” said Dr Wallace, “But they need to be informed about the potential risks and why the company is so keen to push ahead. There is a real danger that this approach to reducing mosquito populations could lead to harm to public health. It is also likely to lock developing countries into continual payments for ongoing releases of two GM mosquito products.”

Oxitec’s scientists have published computer models of falling mosquito populations as a result of releasing their GM mosquitoes, but they have not included the effect of the two different species of mosquitoes, and their interactions with the four forms of the dengue virus and other tropical diseases.

Oxitec has close links to the GM crop company Syngenta and is also developing GM versions of agricultural pests which it intends to commercialise in future, partly to combat the growing problem of resistant pests, caused by the use of pest resistant (Bt) GM maize, soybeans and cotton (2). It has received significant public subsidies, including more than £2.5 million in grants from the UK government-funded Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), mainly for joint projects with Oxford University.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile)

Notes for editors:
(1) Oxitec’s genetically-modified mosquitoes: in the public interest? GeneWatch UK briefing. December 2010. Available on:
(2) Oxitec’s agricultural pest products are listed on:
Bollworms genetically-modified to contain a fluorescent marker have been tested in the USA but these were sterilised using radiation, rather than being genetically-modified with Oxitec’s ‘conditional-lethality’ trait.
Cotton bollworm pests resistant to the Bt toxin used in GM cotton were reported this week in India:


GM mosquitoes: 'Cayman Islands unreliable model'
Sat, 11 Dec 2010 08:55
By G Vinod

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian public are in the best position to decide if the soon-to-be-released genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes is the most effective method to combat the dengue menace.

GeneWatch United Kingdom (UK), a non-profit group that monitors genetic engineering issues worldwide, however, said adequate information must be provided by Oxitec Limited, the producers of the GM mosquitoes.

Its director, Helen Wallace, said that Oxitec cannot use the Cayman Islands' project in 2007, which it touted as a success, as a model for the latest experiment. This is because the island did not have biosafety regulations in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the GM mosquitoes.

“The Cayman Islands is not even a member of the Aarhus Convention or Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity which would require it to consult the public and produce an environmental risk assessment before releasing GM mosquitoes into the environment.

“Cayman Islands appears to have been used by Oxitec to bypass the regulatory requirements that apply in the US or the European Union (EU),” she said.

The Malaysian government is keenly promoting the GM mosquito project using the Cayman Islands as the model to justify the proposed release in stages of the GM mosquitioes into several parts of the country, saying that the Cayman project had managed to reduce the Aedes population by 80%.

Wallace, however, dismissed the figures, saying that there has been no documented proof to substantiate the claims by Oxitec.

“The company now says it is producing an environmental impact assessment following the Cayman Islands project, but nothing has been made public. It still has not addressed concerns over the impact of the long-term release of GM mosquitoes,” she said.

Company making losses

Oxitec, which had been running at a loss since 2008, had thus far been evading scrutiny by the Malaysian public, said Wallace.

A check by FMT on the company's financial statement as of Dec 31, 2009, showed that it had suffered losses of 1,697,952 British pounds in 2009 and 1,712,994 pounds in 2008.

Wallace said that it was clear that Oxitec was under tremendous pressure to commercialise its GM mosquito project to generate revenue and Malaysia must be wary.

“The company is losing about 1.7 million pounds annually. It needs to meet all the regulatory requirements first before it can begin marketing its product and is under pressure from investors keen to recoup their investments.

“As a business entity, it needs to keep generating new markets for its GM mosquitoes and developing countries are its primary targets,” said Wallace.

Malaysia's National Biosafety Board (NBB) plans to release between 3,000 and 4,000 GM male mosquitoes in Bentong, Pahang and Alor Gajah, Malacca soon in a trial to suppress the Aedes population.

The progeny of the GM male mosquitoes die before they can hatch, thus preventing the spread of the deadly dengue virus. The move by the NBB has come under fire by several concerned groups, among them the Third World Network.

Sunday November 21, 2010
Mutant mozzies

Genetically-modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will soon be released in Bentong and Alor Gajah in the first-ever field trial in Malaysia.

SOON, genetically-modified (GM) male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will be buzzing around the districts of Bentong in Pahang and Alor Gajah in Malacca.

No, it is not a follow-up to the Cicakman (2006) movie, but the latest step in the Government’s efforts to control the transmission of the dengue virus.

This virus, which causes dengue fever, is transmitted solely by the bite of the female Aedes mosquito, and most commonly, those of the A. aegypti species.

The GM male mosquitoes are being released in a limited mark-release-recapture field trial designed to test their flying range and ability to survive in the wild.

The small-scale field trial marks the third stage of experiments on the mosquitoes by the Institute of Medical Research (IMR).

The institute has been working on the mosquitoes since 2006, in partnership with Oxitec Limited, a spin-off biotechnology company from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxitec owns the rights to the A. aegypti strain OX513A being tested.

A mosquito symbolising dengue fever displayed on a pickup truck during a health campaign by medical personnel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Dengue cases are increasing all over the world, and Asean countries are particularly affected. — A P

For the past few years, IMR has conducted laboratory tests on the mosquitoes, as well as observed them in a fully contained trial facility, which simulated the living space of an urban household of two to four people.

According to IMR’s application for approval to the National Biosafety Board (NBB), the results of their previous experiments have shown that there are no significant differences between the GM mosquitoes and normal A. aegypti mosquitoes in terms of the egg, larval, and pupal stages, and their reproductive abilities.

The only significant difference between the two types of mosquitoes was in the number of days they survived as adults, with the normal types outliving the GM mosquitoes by an average of six days.

This means that once the GM mosquitoes have been bred to adulthood, they generally live, reproduce, and die just like their wild counterparts. The difference lies in the fate of their offspring.

How it will work

The adult A. aegypti male mosquitoes have been genetically modified to include two new traits: fluorescence and conditional lethality.

The fluorescence trait simply allows those mosquitoes carrying the “extra” genes to be easily identified as they will “light up” or fluorescence when a light of a certain wavelength is shone on them. (Think how the various CSI investigators use ultra-violet lights to check for semen stains.)

The conditional lethality trait is the characteristic of main interest. IMR’s application states that this trait causes the normal cell cycle of the mosquito to be suppressed in the absence of the antibiotic tetracycline.

NBB’s Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) chairman Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir told Fit4Life that what happens is that the gene causes the production of a certain enzyme that reacts with tetracycline in the GM mosquito.

In the absence of the antibiotic, the enzyme builds up to toxic levels and causes the mosquito to die young.

This means that any mosquito born with this gene will die at the late larval or pupal stage of their lives as long as they do not come into contact with tetracycline. (See GM A. aegypti life cycle)

So, once the GM male mosquito mates with a normal female A. aegypti mosquito and reproduces, any offspring they have will not survive to adulthood.

The Cayman Islands in the Carribbean recently concluded a six-month suppression field trial involving the same GM A. aegypti mosquito strain to see if they could lower the population of the A. aegypti mosquitoes in the tested area.

Around three million GM male mosquitoes were released into a 16-hectare area over the months of June to October.

The results, which were announced at a press briefing in London last week, showed that the A. aegpyti population in the area was reduced by about 80%.

Oxitec chief science officer Dr Luke Alphey, who was present at the briefing, said that the results were influenced by migration of mosquitoes from an adjacent area into the tested area.

“Estimates suggest that in many places, 80% suppression (of the A. aegypti population) would actually be sufficient (to control the transmission of dengue).

“We would expect to do much better than that if we were in an area that was not immediately adjacent to an area heavily infested with mosquitoes. In a larger trial, if we were doing a whole town, for example, then we would expect to get much better than 80% suppression,” he said.

In response to a query on how many GM male mosquitoes would have to be released in order to control the transmission of dengue, Dr Alphey said: “In an urban environment, we would expect to have to release in the general range of 20 sterile male mosquitoes per human inhabitant per week.

“And the outcome in a large-scale programme would be suppression to an effectively zero level.”

Where we are

Malaysia is only one step behind the Cayman Islands in terms of testing the GM mosquitoes. The current planned field trial is a preparatory step to a larger scale suppression field trial, assuming that all goes well.

At a press conference announcing the decision of the NBB to approve IMR’s application last month, Dr Parweez said: “We are entering Phase One. Cayman is already in Phase Two – testing the effects on the progeny (of the GM male mosquitoes and normal female mosquitoes in the wild).

“If IMR wants to enter Phase Two, we will have to sit down again to review the application.”

Natural Resources and Environment Ministry Biosafety director-general Letchumanan Ramatha, who was also present at the press conference, said that both the NBB and GMAC had referred to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity in making their decision.

The Protocol, which Malaysia has ratified, is an international treaty governing the movements of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology from one country to another.

It seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by these modified organisms.

Dr Parweez said: “We have considered all the various possibilities of releasing these mosquitoes, and we have found that there is very low or negligible risk.”

He said that after their own research and gathering views from the public, including non-governmental organisations and scientists, GMAC only had two potential areas of concern.

“The first of these is that there is a 3% survivability of the GM larvae in the lab. And secondly is the risk of releasing female GM mosquitoes along with the males.”

However, the committee believes that even if some of the GM larvae survive to adulthood, they will die a natural death within the normal two-to-four-week lifespan of the adult A. aegypti mosquitoes, as shown in the laboratory tests by the IMR.

In addition, the field trial will involve the setting up of traps at various locations to see the extent of the GM mosquitoes flight range, and extensive fogging and a gotong-royong will be carried out throughout the tested area after the trial is complete to ensure that all the adult A. aegypti mosquitoes are killed, and that any mosquito breeding grounds are eradicated. (Refer to Compulsory conditions)

On the risk of releasing female GM mosquitoes, Dr Parweez said that GMAC had set the condition that not only should the pupaes of the mosquitoes to be released be mechanically sorted, but each pupae must also be manually rechecked by a team of three highly-trained IMR laboratory technicians.

The difference between the male and female A. aegypti mosquitoes is that the male mosquitoes do not bite humans and do not carry the dengue virus.

What will happen

A total of 4,000 to 6,000 GM male mosquitoes, along with an equal number of normal male mosquitoes, are expected to be released at Bentong and Alor Gajah respectively in the upcoming IMR field trial.

According to IMR’s application, each location will have two release phases.

The first phase will be a release at an uninhabited site around 0.5-1km away from the nearest human population, while the second phase will be at an inhabited site. The areas of the site can be up to five square kilometres. The releases will be carried out from a single point, and may be done over two consecutive days or just one day. The trials may be repeated.

According to an officer in the Bentong Municipal Council, the council had given the approval for the trial to go ahead in a meeting last week.

“We gave them (IMR) the go-ahead to release the mosquitoes any time within the next three months, so it will depend on the weather,” he said.

The officer, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media, added that it would be up to IMR to inform the public about the release through the media.

Meanwhile, an officer in the Alor Gajah Municipal Council, who also declined to be named, said that he had not heard of any planned release of the GM mosquitoes in his district as yet.

A request to interview the IMR scientists involved was turned down.

If the GM male mosquitoes are successful in bringing down the population of A. aegypti mosquitoes, they will be one additional weapon in the arsenal against dengue.

Dr Alphey does not believe that his company’s GM mosquitoes will be the silver bullet that kills off dengue, but he does believe that they will help reduce the transmission of the disease significantly.

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