GM mosquito project shelved

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government’s plan to release genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes as a way to fight dengue has been shelved.

Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that after the field trials in 2010 and 2011, the ministry did not proceed further as it was not cost effective to be implemented.

“We did not proceed further after the initial study,” he told The Star yesterday.

The purpose of GM mosquito dengue control was to reduce the Aedes Aegypti population – the GM mosquito would mate with the females in the wild and the eggs would hatch but the offspring would die before reaching adulthood.

In the field trial undertaken by the Institute of Medical Research and British-based biotech company Oxitec Ltd, about 6,000 male GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released at an uninhabited forested area near Bentong, Pahang, on Dec 21, 2010.

An equal number of unmodified male mosquitoes were released at the same time for the purpose of studying and comparing the GM mosquitoes under natural conditions against their wild counterparts.

The study ended on Jan 5 and the area was fogged to destroy the mosquitoes the following day.

In response to public outcry over safety concerns at that time, Medical Entomology Unit & WHO Collaborating Centre for Vectors IMR head Dr Lee Han Lim said that the exhaustive studies lasting four years confirmed that the biology, behaviour, mating competitiveness and the capacity to transmit disease of the genetically modified Aedes aegypti were not altered.

Health Ministry vector-borne disease sector head Dr Rose Nani Mudin said Brazil, which had carried out a large-scale GM mosquito testing there, had announced that they would not implement the dengue-control method.

GeneWatch UK director Dr Helen Wallace wrote in the New York Times recently that computer model­ling of the findings showed that 2.8 million genetically engineered adult male mosquitoes would need to be released per week to suppress a wild population of only 20,000 mosquitoes, which was impractical on any scale.

“There is no evidence of any reduction in the risk of dengue fever, which can continue even if the number of mosquitoes is reduced,” she said.

Related story:

Prof wants army to move in to help eradicate dengue

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