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A British-American gene editing company released millions of genetically modified mosquitoes containing the dominant lethal gene from the laboratory every week for 27 months in the Bahia region of Brazil.
The goal of the experiment was to find out whether genetically edited mosquitoes would mate with local mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus, malaria and other diseases spread by these insects. The latest study revealed an alarming fact: a few months after the initial decline in the target mosquito population, "the highly depressed population has recovered almost to its previous level." Scientists are still unaware of the dangers of new mutations, further highlighting the recklessness of uncontrolled gene editing.
According to a new study published in the journal Nature Reports, genetically engineered mosquitoes created by biotech company Oxitec, now part of the US company Intrexon, got out of human control during trials in Brazil and are now spreading in the environment.
On paper, the theory was great. Male strains of yellow fever mosquitoes from Cuba and Mexico have been genetically altered to make their offspring impossible to survive. Oxitec then systematically released tens of millions of edited mosquitoes over the course of more than two years in the city of Jacobina in the Bahia region of Brazil. Oxitec's idea was that the modified mosquitoes would mate with females of the same type - carriers of infectious diseases such as dengue fever - and kill them in the process.
An unexpected result …
A team of scientists from Yale University and several scientific institutions in Brazil followed the experiment. What they have found is extremely disturbing. After the initial phase of the experiment, the mosquito population declined markedly, but after about 18 months it recovered to its previous level. Not only that, the article notes that some of the mosquitoes are likely to have "hybrid vigor," that is, a hybrid of a common mosquito with a genetically modified one created "a more resilient population than it was before the intervention." It may be more resistant to insecticides. Simply put, scientists have created persistent "super mosquitoes."
The scientists note that “genetic selection from the target population within six, 12 and 27-30 months after the start of the experiment clearly proves that parts of the genome of the transgenic strain were included in the target population. Obviously, the rare viable hybrid offspring of the strain released from the laboratory and the population in Jacobin are stable enough to be able to reproduce in nature … "And further:" Thus, at present, the Jacobin yellow fever mosquito is a mixture of three populations. It is unclear how this might affect transmission or affect other efforts to control these dangerous vectors.” Scientists estimate that 10% to 60% of yellow fever mosquitoes in Bayeux now carry the edited OX513A genome. They conclude that “the three populations that make up the current trihybrid population in Jacobin (Cuba / Mexico / Brazil) are quite different genetically, and it is likely that due to 'hybrid power' the new population will be more resilient than what was before the intervention.
This shouldn't have happened.Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Jeffrey Powell, senior author of the study, voiced the following conclusions: “It was assumed that the genes from the released strain would not make it into the general population, because the offspring would die. It is obvious that something completely different happened, but it was an unforeseen result."
Gates Foundation Project
The study in Brazil has been a significant wake-up call against the uncontrolled release of genetically edited species into the wild. What happened is reminiscent of the horrific plot of Michael Crichton's 1969 science fiction novel The Andromeda Strain. Only this is not a novel, but reality.
Oxitec mosquitoes were developed using a highly controversial gene editing technique known as "genetic drive." Funded by the DARPA division of the US Department of Defense, along with gene-editing technology CRISPR, this method aims to ensure that genetic modification spreads throughout the population in just a few generations, be it mosquitoes or potentially humans.
Harvard biologist Kevin Esvelt, the scientist who first proposed the use of genetic drive in gene editing, has openly warned that developing gene editing in combination with genetic drive technologies has alarming potential and can lead to errors. He notes how often CRISPR raises the likelihood of protective mutations, making even a relatively harmless genetic drive aggressive. He stresses: "Even a small number of edited organisms can irrevocably change the ecosystem." Using computer simulations, Esvelt calculated that the resulting edited gene "can spread to 99 percent of the population in just 10 generations and persist for more than 200 generations," which, in fact, proved the experiment with mosquitoes in Brazil.
Notable is the fact that the Brazilian Oxite experiment was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In June 2018, Oxitec announced a joint venture with the Gates Foundation "to develop a new strain of Friendly ™ Mosquitoes, self-regulating mosquitoes, to combat the mosquito species that spread malaria in the Western Hemisphere." The results obtained in Brazil show that the experiment is a disastrous failure, as the new strain was found to be non-self-regulating.
The Gates Foundation and Bill Gates have been supporting the development of radical gene editing technology and genetic drive technology for over a decade. Gates, a longtime advocate of eugenics, population control, and GMOs, is a powerful driving force behind gene editing. In an article published in the journal of the New York Council on Foreign Relations, Gates welcomes gene editing technologies and CRISPR itself. In the article, Gates argues that CRISPR and other gene editing techniques should be used around the world to meet the growing demand for food and improve disease prevention, especially malaria. In his article, he adds: "There is reason to hope that the use of a genetic drive in the case of mosquitoes that spread malaria will not do much harm to the environment, if at all."
As disturbing as the failure of the Brazilian experiment to edit mosquito genes is the fact that the technology is being implemented by truly independent government agencies with little or no prior health or environmental testing. To date, the US government relies only on security assurances from the industry. The EU, while formally required to control genetically modified species in a manner similar to GMO plants, is reportedly trying to loosen regulation.China, being the largest center for gene research and editing, is characterized by extremely weak control in this area. Recently, a Chinese scientist announced an experiment to edit human genes, supposedly to make newborn twins resistant to HIV. Other experiments are spreading around the world with genetically edited animals and even salmon. The precautionary principle was completely thrown away when it came to the next revolution in gene editing. This cannot but grieve.
Oxitec, which denies the results in Brazil show failure, is currently seeking approval from the US EPA to conduct a similar experiment with the same genetically edited species in Texas and Florida. One of the participants in the experiment, Texan Roy Bailey, is a lobbyist in Washington and a close friend of Randal Kirk, billionaire and CEO of Intrexon, owner of Oxitec. Bailey is also a major Trump fundraiser. Nevertheless, let's hope that it is common sense, not politics, that will decide the outcome of the case.