GM Mosquitoes: Programming Nature

GM Mosquitoes: Programming  Nature                                                                            

By Hwaa Irfan 

Philanthropist Bill Gates has been at it again, that is reinventing nature. One wonders which cult movie/T.V. serial he is fan of with the creation of genetically engineered mosquitoes. Once again, this is old news to many, and one that passed without much alarm publicly, well at least not as much as the film the X-Files! Funded to the tune of $19.7 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and led by Anthony James of the University of California

The first known release of 3 million male GM mosquitoes took place last year took place last year on the British colony the Cayman Islands, but was only publicized in October 2010, and the results presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The OX513A not a flattering name for the GM version of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue fever, was engineered by the U.K.-based biotechnology company Oxitec (funded $5mn by the Gated Foundation), with the field experiment carried out by the Cayman Island’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit. The intention was to eliminate the infection and spread of dengue fever. GM males were to mate with normal females to produce larvae that die. The trials were supposed to have been presented at the 5th meeting of the Parties to the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety, which is concerned with international safety issues pertaining to GM organisms, but were not. As to the reality on the ground, that is yet to be seen. Much is based on supposition – the supposition that GM males did compete with normal males, and that the population of normal mosquitoes (referred to as wild as a part of the labeling process towards the perception of serious threat) has been reduced according to Oxitec, but without actual evidence. As such, Oxitec considers its trial to have been successful. Oxitec is awaiting approval for its trials to be repeated in Brazil, Panama and the U.S, although the original study by James pertained to Mexico.

The World Health Organization, which seems to have known of the trial in the Cayman Islands, are still in the process of drawing up guidelines on transgenic mosquitoes, while Malaysia’s National Board of Biosafety has given approval for the trials to go ahead in Malaysia. Unfortunately, Bill Gates is also the principal investigator for the regulatory body Mosqguide, which is funded by the World Health Organization.

We are supposed to be placated by the fact that GM mosquitoes are programmed to not have offspring, according to medical entomologist Willem Takken (Wageningen University, Netherlands), but how can they guarantee that will not happen! It is argument that has not won the support of Gurmit Singh, chair of the Center for the Environment, Technology, and Development in Malaysia, being suspicious about the fact that the trial was kept quiet despite Oxitec statement that the trials were not kept quiet. Malaysian professor at the University of Malaysia, Rosli Omar, is none too pleased. A member of Save Our Rivers – Sengalor, Omar was unaware of the trials on the Cayman Islands in September 2010. Omar argues that invasive species act invasively once released into the environment to the detriment of the environment. Omar gives the example of the Asian Carp that was introduced to the U.S. to rid the rivers of the Snakehead is destroying the freshwater ecosystem, and the cane toad that was introduced to Australia. GM mosquitoes are invasive, because of their new traits, which is made worse by the fact that the normal Aedes aegypti is an introduced species to Malaysia that has become a pest. Once released into the environment it cannot be controlled, it cannot be caught, its behavior in the field cannot be guaranteed, after all, they are not micro-chips, and they are subject to mutation once they mate with the normal species, like the growing problem antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals.

{Are the blind and the seeing alike? Or can the darkness and the light be equal? Or have they set up with Allah associates who have created creation like His, so that what is created became confused to them?} (Ar -Rad 13: 16)

In Mexico, where corn is a part of the staple diet, the effects of GM corn has been a burning issue with it neighbor the U.S. producing mostly GM corn. As a result of a six-year experiment, it was found that GM crops held new genetic traits such as resistance to herbicides or pests that could result in out-competing the crops. There was also delayed flowering and reduced fertility in GM crops. These genetic traits added through genetic engineering are able to spread to weeds, and become permanent traits of the weed population. Of the GM mosquitoes that do survive and breed can it be guaranteed that they will not produce a more dangerous species, which differs in choices of habitat. Mexican teosinte corn has undergone centuries of breeding by indigenous small farmers in what constitutes the world center for the biodiversity of corn with 20,000 varieties. However, in the birthplace of corn an invasion has been underway that was only recently discovered in the remote highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico. The invader is GM corn that has been found along roadsides, cracks in sidewalks and anywhere there is soil including remote mountain settlements. Mosquitoes have wings, and the GM mosquito can change the traditional habitat, and breeding patterns of the normal mosquito. One GM crop with severe side effects is Starlink Corn produced by Aventis Crop Science. Starlink was engineered to be toxic to insects. However, it was found to be heat stable and resistant to stomach acids and enzymes, thus rendering it indigestible by the human body. As an allergen, it was shown to cause skin rashes, nausea, and respiratory problems. In severe cases, allergens can cause anaphylactic shock (hypersensitivity to a foreign substance) or death, what will the sting of a first generation of GM mosquito from breeding?

In the Malaysian trial, the GM mosquitoes are to be released in the inland district of Bentong, and Alor Gajah, and then they are to be recaptured using mosquito traps! If it was possible to capture mosquitoes, why has it not been done before? How can they guarantee capturing all of the GM mosquitoes, and even then, how can they guarantee that the GM mosquitoes have not mated successfully? Lab tests so far have demonstrated that 3% of the offspring of male GM mosquitoes and normal female mosquitoes did survive into adulthood according to Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir, head of the nations Genetic Modifications Advisory Committee.


A different approach has used nature to fight nature. Cuba in the battle against Dengue fever and malaria has produced biolarvicides, Bactivec, and Griselesf since the 1990s. They are added to water to kill mosquitoes as larvae, and have been imported into Africa, but now Cuba aims to build biolarvicide factories in Africa and Brazil. Biolarvicides, which are also produced in India, are based on the toxins of mosquitoes. They are cost effect, and effective in the environment without risking the environment or public health; as to whether biolarvicides based on the toxin of the Aedes aegytpi have been produced is not too clear, but the toxins used in Bactivec and Griselesf have proven effective against all mosquito species according to claims made. The use of biolarvicides in Angola, has proven to reduce the incidence of malaria by 50%, and 75% in the capital of Ghana, Accra.


“Bill Gates Funds Approval of GM Mosquitoes to Combat Dengue.”

Enserick, M. “GM Mosquito Trial Strains Ties in Gates-Funded Project.”

Nightingale, K. “GM Mosquitoes were Released on the Islands Last Year, But Only Published Last Month.”

Omar, R. “GM Mosquito Trial: A Dangerous Precedent.”

Salgado, L. “Cuba Launches Next Phase of African Malaria Project.”

Tan, C. S. “Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes to be Released in Malaysia in Attempt to Control Dengue Fever.”

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