June 26, 2012
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.
Different Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes?
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).
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.
This post first appeared at Natural Society
This article was posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 1:38 am