Not content with genetically modified crops, the world of science (or should that be profit for Monsanto and other corporations) is experimenting with mutant genetically modified flies.
The Mediterranean fruit fly is an agricultural pest which infests crops all over the world, including fruit, vegetables and nuts.
Although the flies have a limited ability to disperse, the flies can be transported globally through the fruit trade.
Current pest controls include releasing sterile male flies into the wild to mate with wild females. The flies become weakened by the sterilisation process which causes problems with them mating, and the flies rapidly build up resistance to insecticides.
Biotechnology company, Oxitec, have used genetically modified flies have been engineered to only produce male offspring – a gene which kills off female flies before they become adults. After several generations the flies will die off as the males can no longer find females to mate with.
Oxitec use the antibiotic Tetracycline hydrochloride, used in humans to treat bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections, acne, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and similar infections. This is used to supress the fatal gene in females. When the chemical is removed the females die. The antibiotic has also been used to eradicate the flies in some areas.
“This allows you to reach thousands or millions of male insects all carrying this gene construct… Very rapidly you get a sex biased population of only male individuals, which is not sustainable,” explained lead author Philip Leftwich, from the University of East Anglia and Oxitec in an article on the BBC website.
“In a local area where you perform this process, the population levels quickly shrink, massively reducing the amount of crop damage,” he continued.
Critics of the genetically modified flies express concerns about the long-term effects of releasing millions of GM flies into the wild, something which they say is impossible to predict.
Helen Wallace from Genewatch, and organisation which monitors the use of genetic technology told the BBC that they have concerns that dead larvae could be left inside crops.
“Fruit grown using Oxitec’s GM flies will be contaminated with GM maggots which are genetically programmed to die inside the fruit they are supposed to be protecting.
“Contaminated fruit won’t be welcome on the market and could be bad for health. Male GM flies will survive for multiple generations and could be spread worldwide when fruit is transported.”
Wallace also expressed concerns that the flies may evolve resistance to the antibiotic which is widely used in agriculture.
As with much of the hype around genetically modified products, there is little or no evidence which shows the long-term effects of introducing unnatural species into the wild. It is possible that a small change in one aspect of the food chain could have very serious ramifications on the evolution of other species, eventually causing problems which are catastrophic.
Then there is the all-encompassing monetisation of such technologies.
Famers have already felt the big corporate hand of Monsanto. By using Monsanto’s expensive GM seeds, farmers have been plunged into unreasonable contracts where the slightest deviation (even through the natural process of cross-pollination of certain crops) can lead to Monsanto claiming all kinds of breaches of patent, eventually leading to the destruction of the farmers business.
In certain parts of the world genetically modified seeds are the only option, again forcing small, local farmers into unreasonable contracts with companies such as Monsanto.
The use of patented genetic technology in animals could lead to a similar situation, effectively giving ‘ownership’ of certain species to corporate giants as they spread and eventually replace or wipe out the natural species.
As an example, imagine what would happen if one company had a patent on GM chickens. These would be introduced into the food chain, eventually replacing unmodified (natural) chickens. For every chicken bred with their patented technology or carrying the genetic markers if the technology, the company would be entitled to a licence fee.
What better incentive to promote their freaks of nature.
We know damn well that where there is significant financial benefit for private corporations there will be manipulation and corruption. The food chain is no exception as we see the monetisation of many of our natural resources, including water (think Nestle) and creeping legislation which bans or restricts us growing our own food (USA and New Zealand immediately come to mind).
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