Director of Public Health S. Elango on Monday said clarifications were needed on the bio-safety of Genetically Modified (GM) mosquitoes being developed by researchers globally to combat vector-borne diseases such as malaria, chikungunya and dengue.

He said here that public health administrators and governments could not take any chances with GM technology unless safety was assured.

After attending a World Health Organisation-sponsored meeting on bio-safety, in which he interacted with experts involved in genetically modified technologies, Dr. Elango was categorical that more clarifications were needed about this technology that was being talked about as a tool to control diseases.

Identifying hazards

“We all know what happened with Bt Brinjal recently and the concerns expressed by public. Like Bt Brinjal, the GM mosquito technology should not land in trouble. It is essential for public health authorities to seek clarifications and identify potential hazards,” he told The Hindu after making a technical presentation.

Clarifying that he was not questioning the usefulness of the technology in tackling mosquito-borne diseases, the DPH said that it was equally important that it did not endanger human, ecological or environmental safety.

The technology was being experimented in laboratories through Oxitec Limited, a company to commercialise the technology developed by researchers of the University of Oxford, U.K.

In his presentation, Dr. Elango raised certain issues that must be looked into before introducing GM mosquitoes in the field. “Addressing the legal, ethical and social implications of the release of GM vectors is vital. The scientists must explain and convince the public about its advantages,” he observed.

He had an interaction with S.S. Vasan, Head of Public Health, Oxitec, and Adjunct Professor, University of Malaya in Malaysia. Later, Dr. Vasan said he was also of the view that a rigorous/independent evaluation of the GM mosquitoes was essential and a moral responsibility of scientists. “We cannot rush through a new technology…but at the same time it should also not be delayed,” he said. The Government of India had formed a monitoring committee consisting of experts to carry out the evaluation, he informed.

The Centre for Research in Medical Entomology (CRME) in Madurai is organising the “2nd WHO-TDR Asian Bio-safety Training Course” from February 22 to March 5.

B. K. Tyagi, Director, CRME, said the objective was to make bio-safety assessment for human health and environment in the context of using genetically modified vectors.