Caribbean country trying out GMO mosquitoes to fight Zika

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An article by Benjamin Flowers for The Reporter.

To address growing concerns about the Zika virus outbreak in the region, the Cayman Islands has agreed to be a testing site for genetically modified mosquitoes.

The Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), is working with British biotech company Oxitec, for the two phased project.

Phase one of the project will be a public education campaign, where both Oxitec and the MRCU will engage the test site comity with information on the mosquitoes.

On phase two, Oxitec will release the mosquitoes into the West Bay area of the island; an area with roughly 1,800 inhabitance. The company and the MRCU will monitor the mosquito population in the area and compare it to an area without the modified mosquitoes.

The MRCU hopes that with good results and adequate funding, the project can be extended throughout the entire island.

Subject to appropriate approvals and funding, the ultimate goal of the programme is to expand from the northwest end of Grand Cayman, where West Bay is located, right across the rest of the island, explained MRCU director Dr. Bill Petrie.

“We believe this environmentally friendly tool can greatly reduce the population of Aedes aegypti and has the potential to eliminate it from Grand Cayman,” Petrie said.

In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended pilot deployment of Oxitec’s mosquitoes , Aedes aegypti (OX513A), after the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) preliminary findings that there were no significant impacts during a trial in the Florida Keys.

The mosquitoes, which have a florescent color, have been modified to die before reaching the maturity to reproduce. The technique should allow for dramatic reductions in the population of the mosquito responsible for the Zika outbreak.

Oxitec has also conducted trials in Brazil and Panama, where they successfully reduced the population of the mosquito by 90 percent.

Dominica, however, refused to take part in the trials, until the company can prove that the mosquitoes won’t cause health safety issues.

Dominica’s Minister of Health, Dr. Kenneth Darroux, explained that while the company has proven that the GMO mosquitoes could reduce the overall population of the Aedes egypti, no consideration has been given to the harm the GMO ‘s can cause to their surroundings.

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