Available information on the free release of genetically modified insects into the wild is highly restricted
February 02, 2012
While genetically modified plants have already been introduced into the wild on a large scale in some parts of the world, the release of genetically modified animals is still at a relatively early stage. A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany has now published a study examining the free release of genetically modified insects in Malaysia, USA, and Cayman Islands. Their findings suggest deficits in the scientific quality of regulatory documents and a general absence of accurate experimental descriptions available to the public before releases start. The researchers call for clear and accurate descriptions of releases to be very widely circulated before insects are released in a trial - particularly if mosquito species that bite humans are involved. They also provide an innovative checklist to assist journalists and the public in assessing the scientific credibility of regulatory release authorizations.
Genetically modified insects are being developed with a view to suppress insect populations of the same species which spread human diseases, such as malaria and Dengue Fever, or that are agricultural pests destroying crops. The first generation of "designer insects" have been engineered to be fluorescently marked, to be sterile to varying degrees, or both. These insects are released experimentally to develop species-specific and chemical-free ways to reduce the size of insect pest populations.
A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology have now investigated the regulatory history of genetically modified insects, with a particular focus on the pre-release information available to the public in the first three countries permitting free releases: the Cayman Islands (mosquitoes, 2009-?), Malaysia (mosquitoes, 2010-2011), and the USA (moths, 2001-2011). The study centres on the US regulatory experience, which is currently being promoted as a global regulatory model for genetically modified insects.
Global deficits in transparency and public oversight
The world's first environmental impact statement on genetically altered insects was produced by US authorities in 2008 and has since then been used as a basis for approval of subsequent experiments around the world. The scientists raise some doubts about the scientific value of this environmental impact statement: for example the majority of novel transgenic approaches it endorses are based on just two laboratory studies out of approximately 170 scientific studies cited. These two studies focus only one of the four species covered by the document. Apparently, such deficits do not only apply to the US. "We noted that public access to scientific information is highly restricted throughout the world, particularly information made available before releases start", says Guy Reeves from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology.
The Cayman Islands was in 2009 the site of the first free release of genetically modified mosquitoes. There were, however, some doubts about the relative strength of the legal safeguards that existed. The Cayman Islands had no enacted legislation specifically mentioning the release or transportation of living genetically modified organisms. In 2009 only 21 of the world's 191 countries also had not updated their existing environmental protection or animal control laws to specifically regulate living genetically modified organisms. While the Cayman Islands is a British overseas territory and consequently not a sovereign state, it is noteworthy that none of these 21 countries is thought to have approved any release of a living genetically modified organism.
The first and most obvious question of people living in the release sites of the genetically modified mosquitoes (OX513a) in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, and Brazil is whether humans can be bitten by genetically modified mosquitoes. In public information available in the Cayman Islands and Malaysian trials, this obvious question is either conspicuously ignored or it is implied that the there is no biting risk, 'as only male mosquitoes are released and they cannot bite'. However, it is clearly detailed by the Max Planck scientists, that it is probable that transgenic daughters of the released males will bite humans. This is because the released males are more accurately described as partially sterile males, rather than the commonly used term sterile males - or most recently 'sterile' males.
A potential concern about the effects of humans being bitten by these genetically modified females is discussed. The context of this discussion is not to suggest that this technology is inherently dangerous. It is to highlight the fact that public confidence in regulators will be eroded, if written discussion of obvious and scientifically plausible concerns is conspicuously absent from all written documents. As far as the authors are aware there are no publically available documents that scientifically consider possible human health impacts of being bitten by transgenic females (beyond unsubstantiated statements in the general media).
Community engagement and consent requires transparency
The general lack of accurate information available before starting releases is problematic. This is because community engagement fundamentally requires that release descriptions be widely circulated before releases start. The need for high-quality community engagement, particularly in early releases, has repeatedly been argued as essential by expert scientists. "It is rather uncontroversial to state that in the absence of meaningful and accurate descriptions being made widely available, community engagement cannot credibly be said to have occurred", says Reeves.
If those that conducted the trials cannot produce pre-release written descriptions, then they need to explicitly state why meaningful community engagement and consent might not be necessary for experimental releases into towns and cities. Individuals providing justifications based on the pressing humanitarian need to rush development of this technology, must also explain why the same argument cannot be applied to clinical trials of vaccines.
Giving genetically modified insects a fair trial
Large numbers of genetically modified mosquitoes are currently being released in Brazil. Further releases are reportedly under evaluation in various countries, including France, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the UK. Proposed experimental releases are for both human health purposes and to control agricultural pests.
Given the enormous human burden of diseases like dengue fever and crop loss from insect attack, it is important that new control techniques are developed. Field trials are an essential step in the evaluation process. "However, we need an informed public to ensure that experimental testing of this potentially valuable technology can be given a fair chance and that testing does not needlessly provoke public mistrust", says Reeves. Avoiding the kind of questionable practices which characterized the commercial development of genetically modified plant is likely to be important.
Related Genetically Modified Current Events and Genetically Modified News ArticlesSensing Neuronal Activity With Light
For years, neuroscientists have been trying to develop tools that would allow them to clearly view the brain's circuitry in action-from the first moment a neuron fires to the resulting behavior in a whole organism. Mechanism behind age-dependent diabetes discovered
Ageing is among the largest known risk factors for many diseases, and type 2 diabetes is no exception. Scientists discover RNA modifications in some unexpected places
The so-called central dogma of molecular biology-that DNA makes RNA which makes protein-has long provided a simplified explanation for how genetic information is deciphered and translated in living organisms. How evolutionary principles could help save our world
The age of the Anthropocene--the scientific name given to our current geologic age--is dominated by human impacts on our environment.Crop improvement and resistance to pathogens benefits from non-coding RNA studies
With the rise of emerging economies around the world and a concomitant upgrade of health care systems, the global population has been rapidly expanding. As a consequence, worldwide demand for agricultural products is also growing. Less effective DNA repair process takes over as mice age
As we and other vertebrates age, our DNA accumulates mutations and becomes rearranged, which may result in a variety of age-related illnesses, including cancers.Weakness in malaria parasite fats could see new treatments
A new study has revealed a weak spot in the complex life cycle of malaria, which could be exploited to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.An 'anchor' that keeps proteins together
All organisms react to different external and internal stimuli: if, for example, the hyphae fungus Sordaria macrospora is supplied with food, it produces fruiting bodies as part of its oestrous cycle. Researchers turn to plants to help treat hemophilia
Accidents as minor as a slip of the knife while chopping onions can turn dangerous for patients with hemophilia, who lack the necessary proteins in their blood to stem the flow from a wound.Genetically engineered fruit flies could save crops
"Oxitec have developed a genetic approach to control medfly that is species specific and cost effective that relies on males passing on a self-limiting trait to female offspring.
More Genetically Modified Current Events and Genetically Modified News Articles
Genetically Modified Organisms: Opening Pandora's Box with Genetically Modified Food|
by Choice PH
Genetically modified foods are foods produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. These techniques have allowed for the introduction of new crop traits as well as far greater control over a food's genetic structure than previously afforded by methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.
This eBook highlights the history of genetic engineering and the advantages and disadvantages of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The advantages would be the speed with which a desirable change can be brought about in both plants and animals. The disadvantages to these rapid changes and what some people fear would be "Genetic Drift". Since GMO crops are planted like non-GMO crops, these GMO crops...
Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food|
by Nina V. Fedoroff (Author), Nancy Marie Brown (Author)
While European restaurants race to footnote menus, reassuring concerned gourmands that no genetically modified ingredients were used in the preparation of their food, starving populations around the world eagerly await the next harvest of scientifically improved crops. Mendel in the Kitchen provides a clear and balanced picture of this tangled, tricky (and very timely) topic.
Any farmer you talk to could tell you that we've been playing with the genetic makeup of our food for millennia, carefully coaxing nature to do our bidding. The practice officially dates back to Gregor Mendel -- who was not a renowned scientist, but a 19th century Augustinian monk. Mendel spent many hours toiling in his garden, testing and cultivating more than 28,000 pea plants, selectively determining very...
Genetically Modified Foods vs. Sustainability|
by Bruno McGrath (Author)
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein This ebook points out the surrounding issues of genetically modified fruit and vegetables that consumers are unaware of. While several parties defend the use of technology to create food, it appears that little is being done to increase awareness about this matter to the end consumer. It also points out alternative food sustainability options such as organic farming and land management. This ebook will indicate that although some parties agree that genetically modified food items are cost effective and considered safe, its long-term results have not been adequately researched and the use of pesticides on these items are far higher than for other types farming or food products.
Monsanto vs. the World: The Monsanto Protection Act, GMOs and Our Genetically Modified Future|
by Jason Louv (Author)
Monsanto—one of the largest agriculture and biotech companies in the world—creates genetically engineered seeds and food, or GMOs. They've also brought us toxic chemicals like DDT, PCBs and even Agent Orange. But what is Monsanto truly doing to our diet—and why do many consider their business practices deeply abusive? Are GMOs the solution to world hunger, or a shockingly dangerous threat to our health? And does Monsanto really, as some suggest, control much of the United States' agriculture and food departments? Meticulously researched, Monsanto vs. the World puts to rest the myths and shows the shocking reality, delving into the science of GMOs, the political machinations of Monsanto in Washington and around the world, and showing what you can do to keep GMOs off your plate...
Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology (Contemporary Issues Series)|
by Michael Ruse (Editor), David Castle (Editor)
Finally, the real story about corporate America with its increased reliance on consultants. Since the 1990s, consulting solutions have become the de facto standard for solving business problems and providing cover for corporate decision makers. This is not the typical CEO whitewash, or business management primer. Steve Romaine offers a view never before shared with management or stockholders as he takes a hired gun's journey beginning at the outside looking in, and ending at the pinnacle of a corporation's power.
Based on his experience of working for IBM, his later role as a self-employed consultant, and finally his responsibilities as senior vice president for NationsBank, Romaine makes it clear that the issues leading to the collapse of Enron were not isolated events. Soldier of...
Genetically Modified Food (Global Viewpoints)|
by Greenhaven Press (Editor)
Though still hotly debated by some,
global warming is now an accepted fact in the wider
scientific community. The average temperature of
the Earth is clearly getting warmer. As scientists
work to develop accurate models to predict the full
impact of global warming, researchers, policy makers
and industry leaders are attempting to understand
and agree on what can be done to minimize or even
reverse the impact of human contributions to global
Volumes in the new Confronting Global Warming
series explore in detail the range of current and
impending challenges the planet faces as a result of
global warming. Climate change potentially affects all
aspects of modern life, from weather and agriculture
to health and politics. The series...
Genetically Modified Foods (Nutrition and Health)|
by Kevin Hillstrom (Editor)
Lucent Books' Nutrition and Health series provides users with accessible information for evaluating the often conflicting and ever-changing issues surrounding nutrition and healthy living. Individual volumes focus on a specific health or nutrition-related topic, such as body image, diets and dieting, junk food, or vegetarianism. Each volume contains a topic overview, information about changing trends, up-to-date scientific analysis, and a look at controversies surrounding the featured subject. The narrative also contains personal anecdotes, informative sidebars, fact boxes and statistics that help readers understand these topics and how they impact their bodies and their lives.
Full-color photographs and detailed tables, charts, graphs and illustrations complement and enhance the...
Genetically Modified Crops|
by Nigel G. Halford (Author)
Plant molecular biology came to the fore in the early 1980s and there has been tremendous growth in the subject since then. The study of plant genes and genomes and the development of techniques for the incorporation of novel or modified genes into plants eventually led to the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops in the mid-1990s. This was seen as the start of a biotechnological revolution in plant breeding. However, plant biotechnology has become one of the hottest debates of the age and, in Europe at least, one of the greatest challenges that plant scientists have ever faced. This is a description of the history and development of the science and techniques that underpin plant biotechnology, GM crops that are grown commercially around the world and the new varieties that...
Genetically Modified Planet: Environmental Impacts of Genetically Engineered Plants|
by C. Neal Stewart (Author)
Genetically modified plants are currently causing controversy worldwide; a great deal has been written about their supposed environmental effects. However, the newspaper headlines and public debates often provide a level of reasoning akin to "this is your brain on genetically modified corn," which is to say, they exclude or exaggerate the actual scientific research on the impacts of these plants. Genetically Modified Planet goes beyond the rhetoric to investigate for concerned consumers the actual state of scientific research on genetically modified plants. Stewart argues that while there are indeed real and potential risks of growing engineered crops, there are also real and overwhelmingly positive environmental benefits.
Genetically Modified Crops: Their Development, Uses, and Risks (Crop Science)|
by G.h. Liang (Author)
Gain state-of-the-art knowledge of new research and developments in transgenic technology!
Genetically Modified Crops: Their Development, Uses, and Risks provides groundbreaking information on the integration of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a plant cell to produce a positive transformation. This volume details methods of gene delivery, laboratory tools and techniques to increase success rates, and the benefits, risks, and limitations of these methods. Authors at the forefront of this developing technology provide a comprehensive overview of transgenic crops and vital research on specific plant genera that have undergone transgenic transformation.
Agricultural biotechnology has become a national and necessary mainstay of farming and food production, and this book is an...