Genetically modified mosquitoes for Trinidad if price is right

FuadKhan-1Port of Spain, Trinidad — Government has considered introducing genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes to Trinidad and Tobago to fight the deadly dengue and chikungunya viruses and if the price is right, it is a possibility, according to Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan.

Both viruses are spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito.

The mosquitoes have been introduced in Brazil and the Cayman Islands with successful results.

However, the cost of the intervention is considered too high, and an attempt is being made to have the cost reduced, Khan said.

Khan disclosed yesterday in a telephone interview that for the past two-and-a-half years he has been looking at using the GM mosquito as a means to reducing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, which have been on the increase this year.

However, he said, “It is an excellent idea but it is extremely expensive. For a small area like somewhere in Chaguanas, it will cost TT$6 million.”

Oxitec Ltd in the United Kingdom is responsible for the creation of the GM mosquito, with scientists using the insects as a tool to fight itself and contain and stop the spread of the virus.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can spread the dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.

The mosquito can be recognised by white markings about its body.

In an e-mail communication with the Express yesterday, communications manager at Oxitec Ltd Chris Creese said Brazil and the Cayman Islands have seen a 90-per cent reduction in the local mosquito pest population since the GM mosquitoes have been introduced into the wildlife.

Scientists at Oxitec used Aedes male mosquitoes for the experiment. The mosquito’s genetics were modified, and when released into the wild to mate with females, its offspring will die before fully mature.

Khan said the Government has been trying to find a way to decrease the cost since, “it (the use of the mosquitoes) is a continuous process and you cannot spray”

He said spraying would kill all mosquitoes and the GM mosquitoes have to be released into the environment.

According to Creese, Brazil now has a mosquito production facility and trials of using the GM mosquito are being conducted in Panama and possibly the USA.

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