Immediately halt the release of Genetically Modified mosquitoes to the environment

Dr Lee Boon Chye, Member of Parliament (Gopeng) and Health spokesperson for Parti Keadilan Rakyat reiterate the call to immediately halt the release of Genetically Modified (GM) mosquitoes to the environment.

This was in response to the decision by Ministry of Health and National Biosafety Board in approving the release of up to 24,000 genetically modified male Aedes Aegypti type OX513a at Bentong and Alor Gajah.

This technique was developed by UK biotech firm OXITEC with the aim to reduce the population of dengue carrying wild Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes.

Dr Lee who also make the call recently in the parliament said that the technology is not proven and it carries uncertain biohazard. The GM male mosquitoes are supposed to mate with wild female mosquitoes and produce offsprings which die at larvae stage.

This in turn will reduce the population of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. Initial test at Cayman Island after releasing 2 million GM mosquitoes managed to reduce the mosquito population by 80%.

However there are several pitfalls in this technique. These are: 1. The process of isolating the male GM mosquitoes is not perfect and as such up to 4% of the GM “male” mosquitoes are actually “female” mosquitoes which can produce potentially viable off-springs.

Furthermore, up to 4% of the second generation mosquitoes produced by mating of GM male mosquitoes and wild female mosquitoes actually survive to adulthood.

These will alter the genetic pool of the mosquitoes; thereby accelerate mutation and emergence of new genetic variants with unpredictable outcome. 2. The male GM mosquito life-span is short and as such in order to control the population of the wild Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, lots of GM mosquitoes have to be release each time and repeatedly to achieve satisfactory long term result.

In the Caymen Island experiment, 2 million GM mosquitoes were release to achieve result.

For West Malaysia, with land area 660 times the size of Caymen Island, the number of GM mosquitoes required each time to achieve similar result may exceed 1 billlion. The process has to be repeated from time to time.

What is the potential long term, recurring cost since the GM mosquitoes is the monopoly of the biotech firm, OXITEC? Dr Lee, who is also a practicing medical doctor and cardiologist urge the Minister of Health to immediately stop the release of GM mosquitoes to the environment.

Instead the minister should focus on effective enforcement of the existing, time proven measures of getting rid of potential mosquito breeding grounds. The question is not about not knowing the way, but how to ensure effectiveness of the method.

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