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GM Mosquitoes May Piggyback the Zika Virus

Posted on 09 April 2016 by Jerry

Genetic modification of a male mosquito whose offspring die before they mature and mate can be used to kill a certain kind of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that carries dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and now Zika virus.  Oxitec, a company out of the United Kingdom, produces this mosquito, with an engineered “self destruct” gene.

This company provides only one of three ways to drastically reduce the number of the offending mosquitoes.  The other two ways are using male mosquitoes that have been sterilized by low doses of radiation and/or a mosquito that is infected with the Wolbachia bacteria.  These bacteria do not infect humans but prevents eggs of infected females from hatching.  All of these approaches entail releasing large numbers of male mosquitoes into the environment.

The Oxitec genetically modified mosquito has been tested in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and a trial has been proposed in Florida.  Now the World Health Organization is very interested in the Oxitec mosquito as a viable way of stopping the spread of the Zika virus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tentatively agreed that the Oxitec genetically modified mosquito would not have a significant impact on the environment as a result of a trial in Florida.  The FDA report states, “The FDA found that the probability that the release of OX513A male mosquitoes would result in toxic or allergenic effects in humans or other animals is negligible.”  The FDA has to wait for public comment before giving final approval of the trial.  The process will probably take a few months.

Genetically modified insects have been introduced into the environment to protect or enhance crops for a number of years.  This however, will be the first GM insect introduced into the environment to have a direct effect on human beings. 

The problem is that use of this genetically modified mosquito has opened up quite a bit of controversy.  An opponent of the genetically modified mosquito, Jaydee Hanson a senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, has been quoted in a Bloomberg news article published on 1/29/2016.  He said “Mosquitoes are food for lots of animals; We would still want to see studies of when birds and bats and amphibians eat these genetically modified animals.  They’re introducing into the ecosystem some genetic constructs that have never been there before.”

The same article quotes the Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry as arguing the opposite position.  He said, “You always get some people who say I don’t like genetic engineering because it’s a bad thing and we’re messing with nature.”  Referring to criticism that his mosquito might die out and another will come to the fore, he has also been quoted as saying, “So in the very worst case, where you find that you eliminated Aedes aegypti in an area and the Aedes albopictus went up, then you would actually be replacing a very dangerous vector with a far less effective one.”

You know that there are two other options that could be used to stop this type of mosquito that do not involve genetic modifications.  There are male mosquitoes of the same species that are exposed to low-grade radiation that sterilizes them and there are males that pass on the Wolbachia bacteria that make it so female eggs do not hatch.  Both of these two methods use males to mate with females to cause an end to successful fertilization and replication.

The question becomes why are we moving to choose the method that requires genetic modification.  The only answer that is probable is that we want to see a genetically altered alternative in the market.  This is a continuation of the government push for genetic engineering.   There have been numerous articles on this blog going back to the June 13, 2012 posting of Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit (see www.iamaguardian.com/category/protect/genetic-engineering/page/4/ ) that show the government’s bias to push for genetic modification products.

This support is hidden from the average citizen’s view and is the reason we are seeking a genetically engineered alternative.  There are just too many economic interests to be satisfied.  These, as an example, range from educators to scientists to entrepreneurs to established major competitors like Monsanto and to politicians.  The U.S. voter should rise up and call for a hiatus on approval of genetically modified products until there is proof that these products do not represent a threat to our health.

The FDA approved the first genetically modified animal intended to be human food in the AguAdvantage Salmon for sale and consumption in the U.S. sometime after November of last year.  Fortunately members of Congress disagreed.  On page 106 of the 2016 federal spending bill congress people added a requirement for the FDA to not allow the selling of this product in the U.S. until the agency puts in place labeling guidelines and “a program to disclose to consumers” whether a fish has been genetically modified.

We have a very short time to influence this genetic engineering issue.  We should insist that our candidates for president address this issue for us so we know where they stand on genetically engineered foods.  In all cases we should ask for regulation and oversight by a newly established governmental agency that dramatically slows the headlong rush to get these products into the market. 

Use the following links to access more information or read the source documents used to prepare this article.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/02/04/what-it-would-really-take-for-gmo-mosquitoes-to-solve-the-zika-crisis/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/10/gm-mosquitos-malaria-genetic-modification

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-35585656

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-29/genetically-modified-mosquito-may-become-weapon-against-zika

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/Genetically-Modified-Mosquitos-May-Be-Released-in-Florida-Keys/384859/

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/genetically_modified_mosquito_sparks_a_controversy-in-florida/2883/

http://www.dw.com/en/fda-gives-nod-to-genetically-modified-mosquitoes/a-19112519

http://time.com/4258317/fda-genetically-engineered-mosquito/

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