June 2018c

10 11 OPENING LINES D espite recent revelations that the pilot project us- ing genetically modified male mosquitoes to re- duce the Aedes aegypti population fell far short of expectations, the Cayman Islands government has signed a new deal with biotechnology company, Oxitec, to continue releasing them. The contract is costing the public purse around CI$588,000 (US$705,000) and appears to be not much more than a repeat of the first project. In a government release, officials said the release of the GM mosquitoes will take place alongside other management techniques to measure the effective- ness and efficiency of the technique. The new programwill occur in the southwestern area of West Bay, officials said, where the bio-bugs were pre- viously released alongside a second comparator area in southeast West Bay. It will also expand releases of those same mosquitoes into a neighboring but geographically distinct area to the northwest of the district. Mosquito Research and Control Unit Director, James McNel- ly, said the program is set to begin immediately with public outreach. He said that in two areas (northwest and southwest) the program will combine the release of varying levels of Oxitec mosquitoes with MRCU’s traditional ground control measures of inspecting and spraying sources of standing water in which Aedes aegypti might breed. Inspections will take place at all business and residential prem- ises. The comparator area in the southeast will also benefit from MRCU’s traditional mosquito surveillance and control measures, but the GM mosquitoes will not be released there. “Within the areas under evaluation we will go door to door to inspect every residence,” McNelly said. “This is a very labor-inten- sive approach and, as such, we are appealing to interested mem- bers of the community to reach out to us to find out how they can help with this process. Fogging operations will continue in all areas as required from both our trucks and planes.” The evaluation period is expected to run until the end of the year and will be completed before the permit to release the bio-engineered insects expires. The news that government is spending close to $600,000 on an- other phase using GM bugs comes af- ter revelations that the scientists at the MRCU were arguing among themselves about the efficacy of the project and that the level of success was nowhere near the claims made by Oxitec,which was formerly UK-based but was recently bought out by a US conglomerate. Despite the ongoing concerns about potential unintended and unknown consequences of releasing the GM mosquitoes and the much greater than expected release of females that can still bite, the government appears more than willing to continue trying the technique. Health Ministry Chief Officer, Jennifer Ahearn, warned that Cayman could be facing a dengue outbreak over the coming months. “The Cayman Islands is far from immune to viral ill- nesses that affect other countries and has already experienced a brief outbreak of Zika in late 2016 and early 2017,” she said. “With the region preparing for a possible outbreak of dengue type 4 this summer, we need to arm ourselves with every weapon at our disposal, including the best scientific information.” MORE GENETICALLY MODIFIED MOSQUITOES TO BE RELEASED IN THE CAYMANS