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Friday 25th May 2018

GM mosquitoes to fight dengue fever

8th November 2010

Genetically modified mosquitoes are soon to be released into the wild in Malaysia as part of the country's fight against dengue fever.


The move forms part of an experiment to test their survival in natural conditions and was approved by biosafety officials last month.

Malaysia is only the second country in the world to released GM mosquitoes after the Cayman Islands in 2009.

Between 4,000 and 6,000 of the experimental OX513A mosquitoes, all male, from the dengue-carrying species Aedes aegypti, will be released in the next two months.

Developed by Malaysia's Institute for Medical Research (IMR) and the UK-based biotech company Oxitec, the mosquitoes will also be accompanied by a similar number of unmodified male mosquitoes.

The GM mosquitoes are modified to produce offspring with normal females that contain an extra enzyme, which eventually kills of the larvae which have it.

The only known antibody for the enzyme is the antibiotic tetracycline.

It is hoped that repeated releases of the GM males will eventually cut the numbers of mosquitoes in the areas worst-hit by dengue fever.

National biosafety officials said they planned to release them in Malaysia's inland districts of Bentong in the state of Pahang, and Alor Gajah and Melaka in the state of Malacca.

They will be released in two waves: the first a short distance from a human settlement; and the second right inside a village or inhabited site.

At least one month later, researchers will examine the local mosquito population using mosquito traps. They will also treat the test areas with insecticide once the experiment is concluded.

Risk factors for the experiment were examined by the Genetic Modifications Advisory Committee (GMAC) and the experiment was thrown open to public consultation in August.

GMAC chief Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir said officials had been concerned to learn that 3% of the larvae fathered by the GM males could survive into adulthood.

UK-based Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist and co-director of EcoNexus, said there were concerns that the larvae that survived could acquire resistance to the GM approach.

She said more data was needed from laboratory experiments before open field trials should begin.

The technique has always been controversial because of the fear that the larvae produced will survive and breed.

Experts have called for rigorous safety protocols to be implemented during the experiment.

Malaysian health minister Liow Tiong Lai has called the technique one of the most efficient and fast ways of getting rid of the Aedes mosquito in the local environment.


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