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This new airborne offensive is being mounted from a business park near Abingdon, Oxfordshire, where a set of low-key laboratories houses the world’s leading centre for GM insect development. Oxitec, a private company spun out of Oxford University in 2002, holds tens of thousands of moths, mosquitoes and flies in its insectaries. They are undergoing genetic engineering as part of the fight against agricultural pests and carriers of human disease.
GM is being deployed to extend the “sterile insect” technique that has already successfully eradicated pests such as screw-worms and Mediterranean fruit flies (medflies) in parts of north America. The idea is that vast numbers of sterile yet virile males - at least 10 times as many as the wild population - are released in infected areas. These sterile newcomers swamp the native males, mating with all available females, which then fail to produce any offspring
The Malaysian government is collaborating with Oxitec to run a field trial with GM insects on Pulau Ketam, an island east of Kuala Lumpur inhabited mainly by Chinese fishing families. Its relative isolation makes Pulau Ketam a good test site, because were Aedes aegypti to be suppressed locally, the success would not be masked by mosquitoes moving in from elsewhere. But some residents are objecting to what they call “warrior” mosquitoes. “What else will the ‘warrior’ mosquitoes kill?” asked Saw Lek, a retired teacher quoted in the South China Morning Post. “We fear, once released, there is no way to control the new mosquito if anything goes wrong.”