Environment

Grand Cayman to release ‘Frankenflies’ to battle disease-carrying mosquitoes

On Thursday, the government of the Cayman Islands announced plans to release genetically modified mosquitoes to battle the Aedes aegypti, pictured here, which carries the Zika virus and other diseases.
On Thursday, the government of the Cayman Islands announced plans to release genetically modified mosquitoes to battle the Aedes aegypti, pictured here, which carries the Zika virus and other diseases.

Tourist alert: Genetically modified mosquitoes are coming to Grand Cayman.

On Thursday, British manufacturer Oxitec announced it had finalized a deal with government officials to release its modified males on the island’s western tip to battle Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the invasive bug that carries the Zika virus and other dangerous diseases. The move comes six years after a field trial on the island, the first ever for the altered insects, generated controversy for providing too little notice to citizens.

This time around, officials plan to meet with residents, beginning Thursday, and conduct a town hall meeting in upcoming weeks. The decision also follows the release of millions of mosquitoes in Brazil, the epicenter of a severe Zika outbreak, that helped quiet some opposition.

Oxitec expects to begin releasing the mosquitoes in June, spokesman Matthew Warren said Friday.

While no cases of Zika have occurred in the Caymans, the country remains on alert because the disease has popped up “in many of our neighboring countries,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said in a statement Thursday. The 2010 field trial reduced the population of Aedes aegypti by 96 percent, he said.

The tiny island nation, with a resident population of just 52,000, is one of the Caribbean’s hottest tourist attractions. In 2014, nearly two million visited the islands, which ranked among the top five destinations in the Caribbean for cruise ship passengers.

Meanwhile in the U.S., authorities earlier this year moved closer to clearing the way for the country’s first field trial near Key West. In a draft assessment, the Food and Drug Administration found that the mosquitoes posed no danger to the environment despite fierce opposition from some Keys residents. The agency is now taking public comment on that study, which it has extended to May 13.

To read Oxitec’s announcement about the release, click here.

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