Scientists plan to launch thousands of GM insects into fields as alternative to using chemicals.
Hoax or Fact:
Fact with some missing information.
Stories circulating online claim that Scientists are planning to launch thousands of Genetically Modified insects into fields as an alternative to using chemical pesticides. Yes, it is a fact, but as of November 2013, the company that developed the technology is awaiting permission for the experiment.
The Plan of Using Genetically Modified Insects
Britain scientists have come up with a plan to launch thousands of ‘frankenfly’ style GM insects into the wild in order to combat pests. The frankenflies are meant to radically reduce the population of olive flies that damage the crop, as Olives are an important commercial crop in Europe. The scientists plan to release a large number of genetically modified male olive flies which would mate with the wild females, the result of which would be that all the female offspring would die at the larvae or maggot stage.
The technology of GM Insects is the brainchild of experts at the British company Oxitec, who say that it is a better ‘green alternative’ for the environment than spraying crops with chemical pesticides. They claim that mutating the genetic code of the insects is actually a way of substituting for the use of chemical pesticides.
The critics convey concerns that the scientists are taking something damaging like the chemical pesticides and are replacing it with something more dangerous. They argue that the scientists mutate the genetic code of insects to sterilize and eliminate the population of flies - which is going to affect the animals that feed on those flies, and the dead flies or their larvae can reach the food products humans consume. To this, Oxitec’s Dr. Martha Koukidou responds saying, "Our approach is aimed not only at controlling the olive fly, but also to avoid harming other species. By using our form of genetic sterility our flies are designed to eliminate the pest and not to stay in the environment."
The Director of GeneWatch UK, Dr Helen Wallace warned that releasing Oxitec’s GM fruit flies is a deeply flawed approach for reducing the numbers of these pests, because large numbers of their offspring will die as maggots in the fruit.
"Not only does this fail to protect the crop, millions of GM fruit fly maggots (most dead, but some alive) will enter the food chain where they could pose risks to human health and the environment. Oxitec’s experiments should not go ahead until rules for safety testing and plans for labeling and segregation of contaminated fruits have been thoroughly debated and assessed. If these issues are ignored, growers could suffer serious impacts on the market for their crops."
The Oxford-based firm Oxitec has applied to Spanish regulatory authorities seeking permission to carry out a netted field trial of its Genetically Modified ‘Frankenfly’. Interestingly, they have carried out similar trials on Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in the past.
Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
The UK Company Oxitec has in the past developed the Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to tackle the spread of Dengue Fever to humans. The idea is again the same, the male mosquitoes mate with wild females before they and their offspring die.
As reported by MailOnline(dailymail.co.uk) in Feb. 2014, Oxitec conducted their first experiments of GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands in 2009-10, followed by another small experiment in Malaysia in 2010-11. Both the countries have halted further experiments. Larger-scale experiments began in Brazil in February 2011 and are still on-going. Approved by the Ministry of Health, these GM mosquito trials were also due to start on 15 February 2014 in Nuevo Chorillo, in the Arraijan district of Panama. Millions of GM mosquitoes created in the British laboratories were to be released into the jungles of Panama.
However, Dr Helen Wallace of GeneWatch UK warned the local people to be aware that releasing large numbers of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes can pose risks to their health and the environment. GeneWatch raised concerns that if the population of one type of mosquito, i.e. Aedes aegypti, is reduced as a result of the GM mosquitoes, others, such as the Asian Tiger mosquito, which also carry the Dengue virus, can come in and thrive. It is also said that till date, there is no evidence from the experiments conducted that human cases of Dengue Fever have reduced as a result of releasing the GM mosquitoes. GeneWatch also claims that, apart from the male GM mosquitoes, a large number of biting female mosquitoes have also been released during the experiments.
To conclude, yes, the Britain scientists of the Oxitec Company are planning to launch thousands of Genetically Modified Insects into fields as an alternative to using chemical pesticides. Like the Director of GeneWatch UK said, the safety testing and plans for labeling and segregation of the contaminated fruits should be thoroughly debated and assessed - to make sure they do not harm the human health or the environment.
Thousands of Genetically Modified Insects Set For Release
Frankenflies to battle pests: Scientists plan to launch thousands of GM insects into fields as alternative to using chemicals
Decision awaited on genetically modified insect trial
GeneWatch UK: GM insects
GM mosquitoes created in British laboratories to be released in jungles of Panama to fight Dengue Fever