'Terminator' Mosquitoes Prompt Debate

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Sept. 20 (UPI) — Environmentalists say a proposal to release genetically modified ‘terminator’ mosquitoes in Malaysia to combat deadly dengue fever puts public health at risk.

The Malaysian government has proposed releasing male so-called terminator mosquitoes with ‘killer’ genes that would lead to a reduction in the population of the Aedes mosquito, which carries the dengue virus, Inter Press Service reports.

In a pilot project by British and Malaysian scientists, the genetically engineered male Aedes mosquitoes mating with wild females would pass on lethal genes that would kill the resultant larvae.

Environmentalists and activists were quick to condemn the plan.

“There are more safe and benign ways to fight dengue” than introducing an altered species whose impact on the environment is unknown, Mohamed Idris, president of the Consumers Association of Penang, said.

“Releasing genetically modified mosquitoes from the laboratories into the wild has potential for grave consequences,” Idris said of the joint undertaking of Malaysia’s Institute of Medical Research and British biotechnology company Oxitec Ltd.

Malaysia Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said experiments with genetically modified mosquitoes at the “clinical level” was “very successful.”

But the government was waiting for reports from the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee and the National Biosafety Board before deciding on the field release of the terminator mosquitoes, he said.

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