Scientists at British biotechnology giant Oxitec recently developed a genetically-modified (GM) mosquito that, apart from a specific chemical antibiotic, is unable to successfully repopulate. And the company recently released millions of these GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands to see what would happen -- and they did so without proper approval or announcement -- prompting outrage by experts and the public over the unknown consequences of conducting such an irresponsible experiment.
Oxitec released the mosquitoes last year, but only just recently let the public know about it. The company has attempted to justify its decision by claiming its GM mosquitoes may help fight the spread of dengue fever by reducing or eliminating the wild mosquito population. But nobody knows what happens when these GM mosquitoes interact with other animals and humans, or how their altered genes will disrupt the living environment.
Seemingly content with its decision to hide the trial from the public initially, Oxitec had the audacity to announce at the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene that its trial was "successful". But how the company can make such a preposterous statement without knowing the long-term effects of its irreversible decision is mind-boggling.
"Oxitec considers its trial 'successful' just days after the experiment has ended," explained Kathy Jo Wetter, a researcher at the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Cooperation. "[U]nintended impacts on the environment cannot be known, and Oxitec's unproven technology could make things worse in the long term. There is no possibility of recall if something goes wrong -- who takes responsibility in that case?"
Not only are mosquitoes a necessary component of the natural food chain, representing the prey of various creatures like birds and bats, but they are also important pollinators in the same way that bees are. Even though they appear to be a nuisance, without them, the entire food chain could collapse.
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