Genetically Modified Insects: The future of disease control?

The BES Policy Team attended yesterday’s launch of a POSTnote on Genetically Modified Insects (GMI), and their future potential benefits and possible risks for disease and pest control, with speakers higlighted several issues and challenges that may be faced by the use of GMI.

For example, Dr Jon Knight raised the issue of scale; if the release of GM insects were to be conducted at a national level, there would be several implications for regulations due to their likely spread across country borders. He did, however, point out that GMI methods can be very similar to existing pest control methods already in use, such as the release of alien biological control agents.

On a related issue, Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher pointed out that whilst those involved in developing GMI’s can learn from the problems faced in the development of GM crops, there are several important differences, such as in mobility, the degree of domestication of the two, and the fact that GM insects are specifically designed to spread genes. She also highlighted the importance of the precautionary principle on the issue, stressing the importance of not pressing the GMI issue before the science suggests the technology is ready to be used, and risks have been adequately assessed.