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GM Mosquitoes Show Promise In Tackling Insect-Borne Diseases, Study Shows; Some Concerned Over Possible Unintended Consequences

“Genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases,” according to the results of a study by a U.K.-based scientific team published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Sunday, BBC News reports (Black, 10/30). “In the 2010 trial, conducted on Grand Cayman island, researchers released 3.3 million male mosquitoes that had been genetically altered in such a way that they were born sterile, meaning they can’t have viable offspring,” which “triggered a population collapse,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “‘We saw an 80 percent reduction in the target area’ compared with the mosquito population in a similar zone where genetically tweaked males hadn’t been released, Luke Alphey, co-founder and chief scientist at Oxitec Ltd., the U.K. start-up behind the experiment, said in an interview,” according to the newspaper (Naik, 10/31).

“The results, and other work elsewhere, could herald an age in which genetically modified insects will be used to help control agricultural pests and insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria,” the New York Times writes, adding, “But the research is arousing concern about possible unintended effects on public health and the environment, because once genetically modified insects are released, they cannot be recalled” (Pollack, 10/30).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.