Flies carrying deadly genes

The background

Olive flies, med flies, fruit flies and diamondback moths are categorised as pest insects that can cause a substantial amount of damage in agriculture. To combat these insects, Oxitec is planning to release genetically engineered males of these species, to mate in natural populations. Their genes will cause female offspring to die. The males of each generation will survive and continue to spread their deadly genes. The intention is to reduce or even eradicate natural olive fly populations.

What is the problem?

  • The genetically engineered flies developed by Oxitec can lead to a substantial decrease in the size of the natural populations. This can have a seriously harmful effect on biodiversity as well as on the stability of ecosystems. 
  • There is a high likelihood that the artificial gene constructs will persist in natural populations. The Oxitec olive flies inherit synthetic DNA in a combination of genes from marine organisms, bacteria and viruses. No one can predict how these insects and their gene constructs will behave over a longer period of time in the environment, where they will be exposed to various environmental conditions.
  • It is impossible to control the spread of the genetically engineered insects in the environment. They can move spontaneously across borders and can impact organic farming.
  • If there are negative effects, the flies cannot be removed from the environment.
  • The larvae of the females will die in the fruit - they will remain in the fruit and be eaten. 

Further Information:

Oxitec, the company which produces the insects, is based in UK and was bought by the US company, Intrexon. Intrexon shares are owned by investors who appear to be mostly interested in making a financial profit in near future. The founder of Intrexon is the investor Randal J. Kirk. The company has applied for patents covering genetically engineered mice, rats, cats, dogs, cattle, pigs, horses, sheep and chimpanzees as its invention. Intrexon also produces genetically engineered apples, [link], salmon [link] and cloned bulls. Furthermore, Intrexon is working together with the FuturaGene Group to develop genetically engineered trees. One of the members of the management team is Robert B. Shapiro, a former chief executive at Monsanto. Aggressively introducing its genetically engineered organisms on to the markets is an integral part of company policy.

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