The Science and Technology Select Committee of the House of Lords – the upper house of the U.K. Parliament – last week published the findings of its four-month investigation in a seminal report.
The Report, Genetically Modified Insects, recognises that GM insects have considerable potential to help address a range of challenges.
The findings were welcomed by pioneering pest control company Oxitec, which has produced a GM Mediterranean fruit fly to be trialled in Australia.
“The sheer disease burden means that all avenues should be explored, and the positive outcome from Oxitec’s dengue fever field trials should be capitalized on,” the report said.
“This potential must be explored; it would be a mistake not to pursue GM insect technologies for a range of potential applications.”
The Committee also calls for more funding support “to maintain the UK’s position as a world-leader in GM insect technology,” and for improvements in regulation “to ensure that the regulatory regime is fit-for-purpose”.
Chair of the Committee Lord Selborne said “GM insect technologies have the potential…to save countless lives worldwide.”
“Our report concludes that the UK Government has a moral duty to test the potential of this technology, for the long-term benefit of those countries where diseases like dengue and malaria are indiscriminate killers.”
Oxitec says it is the only GM insect company in the world, and develops solutions to control insect pests that spread disease and damage crops in a way that is safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The self-limiting insect control developed by Oxitec has been trialled against dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes in several countries, successfully reducing target insect populations by over 90% – an unprecedented level of control.
This approach has now been approved by the National Biosafety Committee in Brazil (CTNBio) for use throughout the country and the city of Piracicaba is leading the way with the world’s first municipal partnership releasing Oxitec mosquitoes.
Oxitec’s Medfly has also been approved for outdoor trials in Brazil and its diamondback moth is currently being trialled in the US.
The environmental profile of this mating-based approach is of particular benefit because Oxitec mosquitoes only control the target pest, leaving other species unaffected.
In addition, the approach is self-limiting; the released GM insects and their offspring die, which means that the pest population can be precisely targeted and controlled, and the released GM insects do not persist in the environment. Oxitec’s insects also carry a fluorescent marker that aids monitoring through simple identification.
“We are delighted that the House of Lords, following a highly rigorous process, has come out with such a strong statement of support,” Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry said.
“Our focus has always been on helping to stop mosquito borne diseases, but like us, the Committee also recognises the considerable potential in agriculture.
“We urge the UK Government to act on the direction of this report and help us bring this approach to countries labouring under the threat of diseases such as Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika Virus.”
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