It is heartening to note from recent media reports that the Indian government is unlikely to give approval to the highly hazardous technology of genetically modified mosquitoes or genetic control of mosquitoes.
A recent front-page report in the Business Line (August 20, 2018) titled “Govt. may swat GM Mosquitoes” written by Rahul Wadke said, “The government is set to deny permission for open field trials to introduce genetically modified (GM) Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The new GM technology claims to control the spread of the dengue, chikungunya and zika virus in India by using GM mosquitoes to disturb the life-cycle of the virus-carrying mosquitoes. Mumbai-based company GBIT, associated with seed giant Mahyco and the UK-based Oxitec, is seeking regulatory approvals from the Department of Biotechnology and other Ministries to introduce the technology in the country. Top Central sources said government scientists are skeptical about the efficacy of the technology. They are worried about the unknown consequences and the likely impact on environment owing to the release of GM mosquitoes.”
In fact scientists and environment activists in many parts of the world have warned against this technology and the secrecy associated with its dubious promotion. This technology has also been indicted for its possible biological warfare implications in the past.
Many such trials have been organised with secrecy in several parts of the world so far. Serious hazards associated with such trials have been exposed time and again.
Dr. Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, has written, “The benefits of releasing billions of genetically engineered mosquitoes into the environment have been exaggerated and the risks have been downgraded. . . . One concern is that releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes could even make the dengue situation worse, perhaps by reducing immunity to the more serious form of the disease. . . . Panamanian researchers have warned that a competitor species, the Asian tiger mosquito, which also transmits dengue and chikungunya, could move in and be harder to eradicate. Disease transmission by this species might increase in the future. . . . The use of tetracycline to feed genetically engineered mosquitoes in Oxitec’s (Oxitec is a British firm involved in spreading this technology) mosquito factory risks spreading antibiotic resistant bacteria into the environment, posing a risk to human health.”
Earlier a press release by Friends of the Earth USA informed, “A confidential internal document obtained by civil society groups shows genetically modified mosquitoes described by their manufacturer, UK company Oxitec, as ‘sterile’ are in fact not sterile and their offspring have a 15 percent survival rate in the presence of the common antibiotic tetracycline.”
Commenting on this, Eric Hoffman of Friends of the Earth said that the credibility of the company involved has been undermined as it has been hiding data from the public. He said that trials of its mosquitoes should not move further in the absence of comprehensive and impartial review of environmental hazards and human health risks.
Critics have pointed out that although this technology is pushed in the name of disease control by powerful interests it may actually lead to a worsening of diseases, as pointed out in recent years by public interest campaigns in several countries. A Reuters report dated 30 January 2016 and titled “GMO Mosquitoes could be cause of Zika outbreak, critics say” said, “The latest contagious (Zika) viral outbreak freaking out the globe, particularly women worried about birth defects, may have been caused by the presence of genetically-modified mosquitoes (GMMs) in Brazil.”
In India, such efforts were first seen in the form of the Genetic Control of Mosquitoes Unit Project during the 1970s. This project was strongly criticised in the media for its various hazards and even biological warfare implications. The Public Accounts Committee of the the Indian Parliament also supported this criticism in its 167th Report. The hazardous implications of the project were exposed by C. Raghavan in Mainstream (May 17, 1975) and by the brilliant PTI reporter Dr. K.S. Jayaraman. While a lot of damage was done by this project , the large-scale release of dangerous mosquitoes in the crowded city of Sonipat (Haryana) could be stopped at the last minute.
In a recent comprehensive review of this technology, titled “Mosquito in the Ointment” a senior Indian scientist Dr. P.K. Rajagopalan, former director of the Vector Control Research Centre, has exposed the many-sided problems and hazards of this technology. After examining a lot of evidence from various parts of world, including India, he concludes, “It is obvious that the release of genetically manipulated vector mosquitoes not only is ineffective but also poses a great danger to society.”
Hence permission for any further trial of this dangerous technology should be stopped immediately, and this hazardous and highly suspect technology should be given up for all time, instead of being introduced time and again in new garbs by powerful vested interests, some of whom have already done a lot of very costly damage in the seed and farming areas.
Meher Engineer: A Requiem for a Man of Reckonable Height Meheryar Hosang Engineer was born on December 20, 1940 in