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Environmental Law

Law Prof Is Concerned About Methods of Company Using Genetics to Control Mosquitoes

Posted Nov 1, 2011 5:29 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Researchers say their genetically engineered mosquitoes are apparently having the intended effect.

In a paper released on Sunday in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers said about 19,000 genetically altered mosquitoes were released on Grand Cayman Island in 2009, report the New York Times and Bloomberg News.

The pests are lab-altered to pass along deadly DNA that kills their offspring before they become adults. The mosquitoes survive only if they are given tetracycline, making it possible to breed the mosquitoes in the lab. About 10 percent of larvae in the Grand Cayman study had the deadly gene.

The modified mosquitoes have also been released in Malaysia and Brazil, the Times says. The species targeted carries dengue fever.

Critics fear the research could have unintended effects on the environment, the Times says. Even some supporters worry the company doing the research, Oxitec, has acted too quickly and without sufficient review, sometimes experimenting in countries with weak regulations.

The Times quotes Georgetown University law professor Lawrence Gostin. “Even if the harms don’t materialize, this will undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the research enterprise,” he says.

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