GM Moths Released in US for First Time: A Major Step for ‘Frankenbugs’

Biotech company Oxitec announced on Sept. 5 that it has started releasing genetically modified (GM) moths in Geneva, New York. Globally, only two types of GM insects have ever been released. GM mosquitoes have been released in Brazil, Panama, the Cayman Islands, and Malaysia. And a GM pink bollworm was briefly released about 10 years ago in Arizona. Both the mosquitoes and bollworms were also made by Oxitec.

The genetic changes made to the newly released moth are much more complex, however, than those made to the bollworm—which was modified to glow for tracking and study purposes.

The moth has been genetically modified to produce offspring that will die before reaching maturity. It has a kind of genetic “kill switch.” Concerned groups like GeneWatch and the Center for Food Safety have pointed out that the kill switch is not 100 percent effective. Some GM moths survive and breed with the wild population, perhaps changing the wild population irreversibly and in unintended ways.

Feeding on crops, the diamondback moth is a pest estimated to cost farmers worldwide some $4 billion annually, says Oxitec. The hope of scientists at Cornell University, working for Oxitec, is that the GM moths will cull the population.

“It’s supposed to be an effort to reduce damage,” said Jaydee Hanson, a senior analyst at the Center for Food Safety. “But the bottom line is, they have not been transparent.”

The Center for Food Safety requested information about earlier cage trials, without success. The Cornell scientists said they were not going to release all the information to the public, that they were submitting it to peer-review first. While that information remains in the dark, 10,000 moths are to be released weekly.

Public information sessions have been cursory, Hanson said. He’s not sure even the authorities have had all the information they should have to assess the risk of the release.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on July 6 its approval of the release, determining that the moth is not likely to have a negative impact. After the USDA approval, Oxitec awaited state-level approval. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) decided the moth was beyond its regulatory authority and that Cornell University and Oxitec did not require a DEC permit.

“You have a bizarre situation in New York where you need a permit to release butterflies at your wedding, but you don’t need a permit to release these genetically engineered moths,” Hanson said.

Organic farming organizations worry that all the dead larvae left on the crops after the kill switch kicks in will compromise organic certification. The larvae can still chew the plants, so even if the population eventually decreases as hoped, the initial increase in population—with the release of 10,000 insects per week—could harm farmers’ fields.

These initial trials are within a limited area, and the crops involved are to be burned, not sold for consumption. But the concern is that open field trials don’t really have any limits.

GM Mosquito Experience

The GM mosquitoes released in other countries by Oxitec have a kill switch similar to that in the moth. The effectiveness of releasing these GM mosquitoes to reduce transmission of diseases like malaria has been questioned. GeneWatch published a report on Sept. 4 looking at the Oxitec mosquito releases in the Cayman Islands.

While Oxitec had reported a 79 percent decrease in the mosquito population there, GeneWatch noted that a decrease only occurred in the dry season, when numbers fall anyway. GeneWatch said Oxitec studies did not show whether the population decrease continued into the wet season.

Rather than suppressing the population with its release of male GM mosquitoes, Oxitec’s own data showed spikes in the number of female mosquitoes (which can transmit disease) in the release areas. GeneWatch speculated that these spikes may be due to the unintended release of female GM mosquitoes or due to wild female mosquitoes gathering to mate with the released males.

GeneWatch and the Center for Food Safety call for greater transparency so the potential risks of releasing GM insects can be better determined before irreversible changes are made in wild insect populations.

Follow @EpochEnviro for more environment news

From The Epoch Times

 
 
 
 
 

Tillerson Urges Lull in North Korea ‘Threatening Behavior’ Before Any Talks

Tillerson Urges Lull in North Korea ‘Threatening Behavior’ Before Any Talks
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday called for a "sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behavior" before talks ...
READ MORE >
 
US

CNN Provides Dubious Explanation of Controversial Anderson Cooper Tweet

CNN Provides Dubious Explanation of Controversial Anderson Cooper Tweet
A day after a controversial Tweet was sent to President Donald Trump from the account of CNN host ...
READ MORE >
 
US

Renewed Push for Immigration Reform After NYC Terror Attack

Renewed Push for Immigration Reform After NYC Terror Attack
WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is doubling down on its push to end chain migration after a failed terror attack ...
READ MORE >
 
US

FCC Votes to Repeal Net Neutrality Regulations

FCC Votes to Repeal Net Neutrality Regulations
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted along party-lines on Thursday to repeal internet regulations adopted in 2015 known ...
READ MORE >
 

Vivienne Tam X ‘Monster Hunt’ at New York Fashion Week

Vivienne Tam  X ‘Monster Hunt’ at New York Fashion Week
On September 10, fashion designer Vivienne Tam showcased her Spring/Summer 2018 collection at NYFW. But this time, her ...
READ MORE >