September 24, 2020

More genetically engineered mosquitoes released** (** see Dr. Reeves email below article)


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Do you remember the Frankenstein mosquitoes and the lack of transparency the UK firm Oxitec executed here in the Cayman Islands in 2009 without our full knowledge?

It created much publicity and our news story and Editorial was republished and commented upon around the world. We even received comment and support from Guy Reeves, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, northern Germany.

I thought Oxitex haddone it again – in Australia. However, if you read the reply at the end of the article form Dr. Guy Reeves, you will see I was mistaken. I have, in response, since changed the headline and apologise.


This story from website was forwarded to us. I’m sure you will find it very interesting:

Do you remember how some scientists, researchers, and individuals like Bill Gates were trying to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment? Well, that endeavor isn’t quite over. Two towns in Northern Australia have recently been gifted with 10-20 thousand genetically engineered mosquitoes – almost completely replacing mosquitoes naturally occurring in the outdoors.

Although the mosquitoes released are still GM, they aren’t exactly the same as the more well-known mosquitoes developed my Oxitec. Oxitec is a British company responsible for the creation of the genetically engineered mosquitoes containing a gene designed to kill themselves unless given an antibiotic known as tetracycline. The company created this internally manipulated insect to help control agricultural pests and reduce insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria.

These new mosquitoes released in Australia, however, are developed with a slightly different strategy. A bacterium named Wolbackiapipientis infects numerous insects species, and harnesses the ability to alter it’s hosts reproductive ability. When this happens, entire populations become infected within generations, and when the bacterium infects mosquitoes, the mosquitoes’ ability to pass on the dengue virus vanishes.

Needless to say, numerous scientists, researchers, and many individuals have expressed concern regarding the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes. The first mosquito release by Oxitec took place in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean in 2009, only for a second trial to occur in 2010, where 6,000 mosquitoes were released in Malaysia for further experiments. Now, 10-20 thousand mosquitoes were released in Australia, drilling the environment with even more genetically modified creations. As mentioned, many people are not happy about this.

Some individuals, such as Daniel Strickman, point out the obvious discomfort surrounding the possibility that the bacterium could become out of control once released – in a way that does not naturally occur in nature. In addition, mosquitoes less susceptible to dengue infection could in turn become more susceptible to other viruses.

Unfortunately, no peer-reviewed scientific proof of the safety of such biotechnologies can be offered. Long-term effects have not been at all measured, and once these insects are released, they can not be recalled. Here are but a few of the questions and issues regarding GM mosquitoes (or any GM insect for that matter).

  • Will Oxitec need to acquire the free and informed consent of residents in Key West for the release of the GM mosquitoes? With the previous release of the mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands there was no public consultation taken on potential risks and informed consent was not given from locals.
  • What could happen to the ecosystem and local food chain with the major decrease in the Aedes aegypti mosquito population?
  • Tetracycline, the antibiotic Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes are supposed to have no contact with, is showing up in the environment. With tetracycline being present in the wild, these GE mosquitoes would survive and thrive.
  • Mosquitoes can develop resistance to the lethal gene inputted by Oxitec. In fact, 3.5 percent of the insects survived to adulthood in laboratory tests despite carrying the lethal gene, according to Todd Shelly, an entomologist for the Agriculture Department in Hawaii.
  • 0.5 percent of the released insects are female (the gender which bites humans); what happens to humans if bitten by the female mosquitoes?
  • Who regulates releases, and who will be responsible in the event of complications – to any degree?

The truth is that we have no idea what the future holds for genetic modification and the potential impacts it has on the environment and public health. We know that the genetically engineered mosquitoes are equipped with a lethal gene designed to lower the mosquito population, but what does that really mean for humans? We simply do not know the potential outcomes that could arise from such creations.

For more on this story go to:

Email From Dr R. G. Reeves Max-Planck-Institut für Evolutionsbiologie:

Dear Colin
I just saw the article

With the greatest respect I would like to point out that Oxitec had nothing whatsoever to do with the Australia releases . This is not  at all clear from the article (nor was it in the article it appears to be based on

For more  information on the Australia releases I would suggest you go to their web pages 

There you will see that the release of the mosquitoes (which are not genetically modified) was conducted by a local Australian University. There was extensive local consultation. The group has made considerable effort to anticipate public concerns about safety, including conducting and publishing experiments (in peer reviewed journals) showing that the bacteria used in the approach are not transferred as part of a mosquito bite
The scientific community was well aware that the trial was being conducted before hand.  
Substantive results of the trial have already been published.
Crucially, if the experiment is successful the local people will enjoy the long-term  benefit of reduced probability of Dengue being transmitted  in their community.  In this system this occurs without the need for releases of more mosquitoes because it is self-sustaning system that makes mosquitoes less capable of carrying the Dengue virus (it  does not rely on reducing mosquito numbers). 
To avoid confusion the  Oxitec system trialed on Grand Cayman  in 2009 is entirely focused on reducing mosquito numbers and is not self-sustaining i.e. it requires the continuous release mosquitoes.

My problem  withe article is that it is  not very clear that the article discusses two unrelated approaches and  two unrelated scientific groups.   This obscures that each group must take responsibility for its own actions and not for unrelated actions of others  they have no connection to.
It is only through  making this clear will responsible behavior be recognized and encouraged.  



I would like to say that I am associated with neither Oxitec Ltd. or the ‘eliminate dengue’ group.  I am  however hopeful that new techniques for controlling Dengue can be developed.

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  1. Great blog, nice content, good read, informative and well written.

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