GM Mosquitoes To Be Released In Panama

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Millions of GM mosquitoes created in British laboratories are about to be released into the jungles of Panama to tackle the spread of Dengue Fever to humans.

The idea is that the male insects are on a suicide mission which involves mating with wild females before they and their offspring die.

This, in theory, will reduce the number of wild mosquitoes which carry and spread Dengue Fever, which causes serious symptoms ranging from high temperatures and muscle pain to bleeding.

GM Mosquitoes To Be Released In Panama

Mosquitoes are known as carriers of diseases such as Malaria, but modern science may have found a way to make them part of a solution to Dengue Fever

However, British campaigners warn that proper safeguards have not been established with the result that unintended consequences could make the disease situation even worse.

The UK company Oxitec, has developed the technology to create genetically modified insects which, it claims, can also be used instead of chemicals to protect food crops from pests.

The firm has held preliminary talks with UK authorities about releasing GM insects into UK fields or greenhouses to reduce pest numbers.

The GM mosquito trials are due to start on February 15 in Nuevo Chorillo, in the Arraiján district of Panama.

Scientists have used Mosquitoes for researching the spread of disease for years, often using themselves as human guinea pigs in the experiments

Scientists have used Mosquitoes for researching the spread of disease for years, often using themselves as human guinea pigs in the experiments

Mosquitoes can suck an enormous amount of blood out of a human proportionate to their body size, swelling massively every time they feed

Mosquitoes can suck an enormous amount of blood out of a human proportionate to their body size, swelling massively every time they feed

They have been approved by the Ministry of Health but critics claim no information about the possible downsides have been provided to members of the public.

Oxitec conducted its first open release experiments of GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands in 2009-10 followed by a smaller experiment in Malaysia in 2010-11. Both countries have halted further releases. Larger-scale experiments began in Brazil in February 2011 and are still on-going.

Director of GeneWatch UK, Dr Helen Wallace, said: ‘Local people should be aware that releasing large numbers of GM mosquitoes can pose risks to their health and the environment.

‘They also need to know who will be liable if anything goes wrong. Will Oxitec take responsibility for any problems, or just walk away?’

GeneWatch said changes could be introduced into the wild population which means the Dengue Fever they spread becomes more dangerous to humans.

As one of nature's most common pests, humans have always tried to create newer and more effective ways of repelling mosquitoes, making the business of things like aerosol repellant incredibly lucrative

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As one of nature’s most common pests, humans have always tried to create newer and more effective ways of repelling mosquitoes, making the business of things like aerosol repellant incredibly lucrative

It claims that if the numbers of one type of mosquito – Aedes aegypti – is reduced as result of the release of GM versions, others, such as the Asian Tiger mosquito, which also carry the virus, could come in and thrive.

It said there is no evidence from experiments conducted to date that human cases of Dengue Fever fall as a result of releasing the GM insects.

The release of GM insects is supposed to involve only males, however it has emerged that a large number of biting female mosquitoes have also been released during experiments.

‘Local people should be aware that releasing large numbers of GM mosquitoes can pose risks to their health and the environment.

‘They also need to know who will be liable if anything goes wrong. Will Oxitec take responsibility for any problems, or just walk away?’

Oxitec’s chief executive, Hadyn Parry, insisted the release of the insects is being properly policed. He said: ‘Panama have been through a rigorous regulatory review of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes.

‘Approval for the evaluation has been given by  Panama’s National Biosafety Committee, the Ministries of Agricultural Development and Commerce and Industry.

‘Over the last five years there has also been  considerable public engagement within Panama at national and local levels, in which GeneWatch has been involved, and no doubt this consultation process will continue.

‘The evaluation will be conducted by the Gorgas Institute, an institute with a worldwide reputation in developing approaches to combat disease carrying mosquitoes.

‘We believe GeneWatch should respect the sovereignty, expertise and authority of Panama in making decisions for the benefit of their own people.’

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