Of pesky mosquitoes and neighbours

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Recent studies in Brazil on genetically modified (GM) Aedes egypti mosquitoes that do not spread dengue raise some questions over border issues, according to the UK-based non-governmental organisation Gene Watch.

The GM mosquitoes were developed by UK biotech company Oxitec, which says that the GM mosquitoes carry a gene that prevents their offspring from surviving to become adults. The studies in Brazil found that these mosquitoes helped reduce populations of dengue-carrying mosquitoes.

More than half a million GM mosquitoes were released each week during the last phase of the tests in Brazil, which now plans to scale up production to 2.5 million GM mosquitoes per week and is considering more sites for future releases.

This amounts to ten million GM mosquitoes per month, says GeneWatch.

Dengue is spread by aedes egypti mosquitoes. Credit: Wikicommons

The mosquitoes have also been tested in Malaysia and Cayman Islands. And there are reports of discussions to test them in India too.

Which raises some questions – what if some of these GM mosquitoes, or their eggs which can survive for several months in a dormant state under dry conditions,  end up travelling to neighbouring countries by road, rail or sea?

Scientists are also working on other kinds of GM mosquitoes with reduced disease transmission, and other GM insects at various stages of development include crop pests such as stem borers , pinlk bollworm, fruit flies and red flour beetles.

In a statement circulated at COP-MOP 6,  GeneWatch, said out that Brazil did not consult neighbouring countries when it released GM mosquitoes , which will “set an important for future release s of other GM insects”.

Cross-border consultation may become increasingly important in future, says GeneWatch.

In the GM mosquito case, while scientists and civil society organisations have commented on the GM mosquitoes, Brazil’s neighours have not yet commented

“Unless  precedent is established now to consult with neighbouring countries, other kinds of GM mosquitoes and insects could be released without cross-border consultation,” it says.

So, don’t take your neighbours for granted.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP-MOP 6 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety — which takes place 1–5 October 2012. 

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