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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Proposed release of franken moth – is that good for the mankind.. !!!

Have you heard of  Plutella xylostella ?   It is better known as the diamondback moth  also called cabbage moth, a European moth believed to originate in the Mediterranean region that has since spread worldwide. The moth has a short life cycle (14 days at 25°C), is highly fecund and capable of migrating long distances.
The first primary requirement for mankind is food – Agriculture is the first step of civilization and various crops are grown using modern and continuing age old techniques.  Major world crops include  Rice, Whest,  maize (corn),  soybeans, hay, potatoes and cotton – and often crops are threatened by Pests;  pests are detrimental to growing them – pests commonly mean vermin, weeds, locusts, parasites, and pathogens.  Even animals are derided as pests as they damage agricultural produce by feeding on them.  Besides the insects, mice, rats, small rodents, foxes, opossums, raccoons, bears, cattle, elephant can all cause destruction of grown crops.   Pests create problems inside households also.  There appears to be unceasing struggle between mankind and its insect enemies and newer weapons of mass destruction continue to be developed and pests outlive most of them.
The uneasy struggle and co-existence is the ‘balance in nature’.  The pests have tremendous capacity  to reproduce and the  environment resistance somewhat keeps them in check. Once the natural environmental resistance decreases or due to favourable factors, insects multiply, it becomes necessary to control them through other methods to ensure that they do not cause economic losses.  For doing that the insect / pest needs to be correctly identified, its biological aspects studied and strategy evolved in controlling or destroying it. There can be physical and mechanical, chemical methods in controlling them.   
For long Scientists have been thinking of another methods which could have some repercussions as well – it is creating and releasing ‘GM insects’… alarming !!

The eggplant – aubergine, melongene, brinjal or guinea squash (Solanum melongena)  i.e.,  the common brinjal  was in news due to GM activity is not easily forgotten.  There have been controversies surrounding the development and release of genetically modified foods, ranging from human safety and environmental impacts to ethical concerns such as corporate control of the food supply and intellectual property rights.  BT Brinjal were created by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the genome of various brinjal cultivars. Bt brinjal  was developed to give resistance against lepidopteron insects, in particular the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer -   after a public outcry the Indian government applied a moratorium on its release. 
Genetic modification has been tried in some other items including cotton – the main aim is to create the crop that would survive the harmful chemicals and pesticides and grow unabated providing commercial viability.  It is also aimed at increasing their longevity and keeping them fresh longer.  Gene technology is a type of modern biotechnology that makes use of living things to make or change product.  There have been criticism on safety, ecological concerns and more objecting GM.
Now there are plans afoot to release millions of GM insects designed to destroy foods (source –  the photo below also taken from that)

There are reports that the Govt in UK is considering plans by a British company for the ‘open release’ of a GM strain of the diamondback moth, which it has developed. Diamondback moths attack cabbages, broccoli, cauliflowers and similar crops.  The genetically modified moths  with  the GM strain a lethal gene inserted into the male of the species are expected to  mate with wild females, their offspring die almost immediately, causing the population to crash; and when that happens, it could lead to increasing crop yields and profits for farmers.  The company involved, Oxitec, is keen to begin trials next year, but it faces opposition from groups who say the untested technology could threaten wildlife and human health.
An agency GeneWatch UK is opposing that such release is potentially dangerous and man ‘playing God’ is controversial.  They apprehend that it would be impossible to recall if anything goes wrong.   However, Oxitec’s chief executive said there was a demand from British farmers for genetically modified diamondback moths and that UK trials could start next year.  They claim that using GM insects to kill the pests that prey on food crops is better for the environment than harsh chemical sprays.  When pesticides are sprayed they are to kill all the insects that is comes in contact -  whether harmful or beneficial.  The Company wants to do a trial next year subject to regulatory authorities nodding to the proposal.   The Oxitec team of scientists, based in Oxford, insist these modified insects are better for the environment than the harsh chemical sprays currently used to kill pests.  The firm, which is supported by grants from the taxpayer, is developing a number of GM insects that would be used in Britain and around the world to protect crops and combat disease in humans.  There are a number of scenarios, ranging from open release into fields to a more controlled experiment using polytunnels with insect proof screens at each end.  Oxitec says all the GM moths carry a lethal gene and would die within a few days of release. This is known as ‘biological containment’ and Oxitec argues that it is so successful there is no need for any physical barriers to stop the insects flying away.
The paper states: ‘For an “open” release to go ahead the extent of the biological containment would have to meet two legal tests.   First, it should be sufficient to limit contact with humans and the environment. Second it should provide a high level of protection to humans and minimise the risk of harm to the environment.’
With regards
S. Sampathkumar.

1 comment:

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