Recently-revealed court documents from the Cayman Islands show that Oxitec is not only aware that their GMO mosquito will cause the rise of the more dangerous Asian Tiger variety, the company already has a second species of GMO mosquito ready to sell to supposedly fix the problem its first product creates. Of course, the company expects the public to purchase both products (and likely others in the future) if citizens allow these releases to take place.
An important assessment issued yesterday by GeneWatch explains that one of the major concerns about the company’s genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquito is that, if natural populations of A. aegypti are reduced, a competing mosquito species can rise up to take their place. The biggest threat here in the Florida Keys is the Aedes albopictus, another invasive species that takes human blood meals. It’s also more difficult to control with pesticides than the aegypti, making communities ever dependent on Oxitec to produce new streams of engineered animals which must battle it out on the playground of life.
Oxitec’s application to the Cayman court makes it clear that the company intended all along to design and release Asian Tiger mosquitoes as well as aegypti. It refers to both species throughout, stating from the outset that the company intends to sell a second “animal drug” to fix the ongoing problems created by the first.
While it may seem like a very profitable game to Oxitec, this risky strategy has no place in modern mosquito control methods which are already well-established. The most important of these is “source reduction,” otherwise known as emptying standing water where ever you find it. No one likes pesticides, but several larvicides are well established and can be used on a small scale. Even aerial spraying, as distasteful as it is, has a longer safety record than GMO mosquitoes, which are already showing evidence of the many safety risks we’ve been pointing out all along.
A promising new option is further ahead in its testing process than Oxitec’s GMO mosquito. Called Wolbachia, its a natural bacterium which infects only insects. Mosquitoes which have Wolbachia don’t transmit human diseases like Zika and dengue, and their offspring die before the eggs hatch, which also reduces populations. Unlike the constant applications required by GMO mosquitoes, Wolbachia infection spreads among insects on its own, allowing for smaller touch-up applications and reduced pesticide use in the future.