European patent granted on genetically engineered insects

Mating in natural populations will cause any offspring to die or be seriously mutilated

16. December 2016

17 December 2017 / The European Patent Office has granted a patent on genetically engineered insects to Oxitec (EP1984512). The patent covers synthetic DNA sequences purposely engineered to mutilate or kill insects, including insects inheriting the DNA. Once released, the intention is that the insects will mate in natural populations. Any offspring will either be blind, unable to fly, sterile or die at an early stage of their development. In many cases, only the female offspring will be affected, while the males will carry on spreading the genes.

The patent description lists dozens of species of flies, mosquitoes, beetles and butterflies. Several of the species are known to be agricultural pest insects, whilst others can spread diseases. The purpose as described in the patent is to reduce or cause the extinction of natural populations of these species.

“The plan is to release billions of these genetically engineered insects into the environment. Nobody can really predict or control the consequences. For example, due to the huge number of insects being released, there is a high likelihood that some of them will exhibit unwanted characteristics. By the time these variants are detected, it may be much too late to prevent severe damage to health and the environment,” says Christoph Then for Testbiotech.

Oxitec is disingenuously attempting to promote its insects as the ‘saviour’ of mankind: In 2015, the company started releasing its mosquitoes in Brazil where it argued they would combat the transmission of Dengue fever. As fears over the spread of ZIKA emerged in 2016, the company began to argue its insects would now be more necessary than ever to combat this disease, and tried to expand the release to Florida, USA. However, this was not allowed by the US authorities. The company is also active in Europe: Oxitec has filed two applications for the release of genetically engineered olive flies in Spain, although these were rejected after public controversy.

Oxitec is based in Great Britain and has been owned by the US company Intrexon since 2015. Intrexon is also active in producing genetically engineered apples and salmon as well as in the cloning of farm animals. And in cooperation with the FuturaGene Group, it is aiming to develop genetically engineered trees. In addition, the company has filed patent applications on genetically engineered mice, rats, cats, dogs, cattle, horses, sheep and chimpanzees. One of the foremost policies of the company is to aggressively introduce genetically engineered organisms into the markets.

“This patent is driven by the kind of financial interests that can create substantial and long-lasting ecological damage. Investors in Oxitec are simply looking to gain maximum profit for as long as the patent is valid,” says Christoph Then for Testbiotech. “Such patents create wrong and even dangerous incentives for investment. European politicians should respond quickly to correct this development.”

The release of genetically engineered insects were also be discussed at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which took place from 4 – 17 December in Mexico. In this context, around 160 organisations signed an international call to bring about a moratorium on the development of so-called gene drives. Once inserted into an organism, gene drives will cause genetically engineered DNA to spread much faster throughout natural populations than would be the case with natural heredity.

Contact: Christoph Then, +49 151 54638040,

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