International Business Times Exaggerates Opposition to GM Mosquitoes, Spreads Fear Not Fact

Categories: Crime
See also "Genetically Modified Bugs Glow Red and Self-Destruct, but Can They Keep Away Disease?" and "Petition Against GM Mosquitoes Has Nearly 100,000 Signatures"

The International Business Times on Monday morning published an article about the potential release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Key West. Unfortunately, the first sentence is a complete lie, and the article does nothing to foster a meaningful conversation about this emerging technology.

The IBT starts off its piece by declaring: "Hundreds of thousands of Florida residents have signed a petition opposing the release of mutant mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to kill off insects and curb disease."


When the story was published, the petition had only 103,209 signatures total, not hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, the petition is on, a global website with an international mailing list, and many of the signatures are from people outside of the Sunshine State.

Also, the mosquitoes aren't modified to kill off insects. They're modified to self-destruct and thus collapse the population of a single species of mosquito that's capable of spreading dengue fever.

Residents of Key West and beyond have raised many valid concerns over the potential experiment. And it's important that these concerns be disseminated through the media.

At the same time, the threat of dengue fever is growing around the world, especially in nearby countries such as the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Oxitec's genetically modified mosquitoes might be an elegant solution to dengue that is far less environmentally damaging than some of the chemicals currently used.

The IBT article wholly ignores the potential benefit of these GM mosquitoes and instead cherry-picks talking points that serve to spread fear and misinformation. It's this type of reporting that hinders reasonable discussion and makes people jump to conclusions based on hype, not fact.

Again, we encourage readers to take a look at our recent feature on the subject.

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There are several cheap, effective and environmentally friendly alternatives to GM mosquitoes. Native plants that repel Aedes aegypti like American Beautyberry can be used as screening to reduce the House Index.   A study using repellent plants in Tanzania reduced all mosquitoes found in houses by 50%, the cost was $1.50 per house which includes maintenance and labor costs. This can be used with attractants and lethal ovitraps using used coffee grounds or other cheap environmentally friendly larvicides, as well as fan traps on the lethal ovitraps to not only reduce the larvae survival but also catch the adult females.   This push pull method may not only reduce the larvae from surviving, but unlike GM mosquitoes will also target the adult females and reduce the chance of Aedes aegypti entering the home, and at a fraction of the cost. Other methods include the use of some strains of the fungi Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae which some peer reviewed studies suggest can also reduce the survival of Aedes aegypti offspring, but unlike GM mosquitoes can also cause mortality in the adult females, thus reducing both the population and the chance of being bit. Yet another example is use of the bacteria Wolbachia, which some peer reviewed studies suggest may reduce the adult Aedes aegypti lifespan by 50% and unlike GM mosquitoes may actually provide resistance against dengue serotype 2 and chikungunya.   There are several other alternatives as well. What Mosquito Control has failed to mention is that releasing millions of GM mosquitoes including thousands of females could potentially increase the risk of transmitting mosquito-borne diseases.   Releasing millions of male mosquitoes may also increase the risk of chikungunya which a peer reviewed study suggested can be spread when Aedes aegypti mate.   With each male mating as many as 21 times in their lifetime that is a huge risk not worth taking unless the there is resistance against chikungunya, which doesn't appear to be the case for GM mosquitoes.   There have been over 100 cases of chikungunya reported in the U.S. between 2006 and 2009 including cases in Florida, so this a very real risk.   Florida entomologist Walter J. Tabachnick, estimated that if an outbreak that occurred in Italy had occurred in Key West it would have caused 1,200 cases of chikungunya and 4,000 cases if it occurred during tourist season.   The Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae alternatives both reduce the lifespan of the adult female and therefore reduce the chance of chikungunya spreading, they can also be used without releasing more males but instead infecting the already existing males and/or females.   The Wolbachia alternative may reduce the lifespan of adult female Aedes aegypti and may even provide resistance against chikungunya, so even if more males were released there would be a significantly reduced risk of spreading chikungunya compared to GM mosquitoes. There are numerous unknowns such as whether or not the synthetic protein based on sequences from E.coli and the Herpes simplex virus that the GM Aedes aegypti express could be transmitted to humans during a bite or affect animals ingesting them.   As well as a partially independent lab reporting 15% of the GM mosquito offspring surviving in the presence of chicken found in cat food and a member of the mosquito control district admitting that Aedes aegypti have been found breeding in pet dishes, making such an event likely if GM mosquitoes are released.   Along with Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory's Phil Lounibos stating there is no supporting background evidence that the GM Aedes aegypti would solve a dengue problem.   All of this and more makes a GM mosquito release seem like an expensive, pointless and potentially risky proposal.

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