MRCU director awaits data from GMO mosquito trials

Nov 19, 2018 Culture

The Aedes Aegypti mosquito season is over. The Mosquito Research and Control Unit has now shifted the focus of its controversial GMO mosquito programme from releasing mosquitoes in the field to data evaluation. "It's all fresh data, it's all data that was accumulated according to a project where both sides, scientists on both sides, agree that this is the way to go," said MRCU Director Dr. Jim McNelly. Now that the release of Oxitec's genetically modified mosquitoes has been halted in West Bay trial areas, Dr. McNelly says it's time to evaluate the data. "They have an interesting methodology of potentially controlling mosquitoes, we don't want to ignore it, but would you want to do our due diligence and make sure that it can be ultimately integrated with everything that, everything else that we do as part of our programme," said Dr. McNelly. In May, the government signed a half-million dollar contract with Oxitec for a five-month round of trials on the GMO project. As recently as July of 2017 there were talks of an $8 million island-wide rollout, but after former MRCU Director Dr. Bill Petrie's departure that same month to Miami-Dade, the MRCU changed course. "Coming here and looking at the entire unit, the entire program, it was easier to see that the approach in the past what was being proposed, an $8 million, island-wide release, was a silver bullet approach, and I think that's the biggest distinguishing feature of previous versus the current administration," said Dr. McNelly. Dr. McNelly told Cayman 27 while there's no silver bullet to control the Aedes Aegypti, a most efficient vector of diseases like Zika, chikungunya, and dengue, the Oxitec GMO technology may have a role to play in Cayman's future eradication efforts. "We are still looking at the potential to collaborate in 2019, we've only had preliminary discussions," said Dr. McNelly. He told Cayman 27 the results of this year's five-month trial will inform the decision-making process on the future of the MRCU/Oxitec partnership. Dr. Mcnelly said the MRCU is committed to transparency regarding the GMO mosquito project. He said the unit is working to bring some data to the public sooner rather than later.