09/21/2004 - Genetically modified insects—insects that have had genes engineered into them or their symbiotic bacteria—may offer enormous benefits in protecting public health and agriculture. For example, it may be possible to reduce the transmission of some insect-borne diseases by altering the insect that carries the disease. It may also be possible to suppress the population of certain crop pests in more economical and efficient ways using genetically modified insects.
As with other areas of biotechnology, however, questions are being raised about the safety of these uses of genetically modified insects. GM insects could pose environmental, agricultural, or public health risks. In general, the introduction of genetically modified organisms to the environment is likely to be a sensitive political, ethical, ecological, and economic issue.
Scientists have succeeded in transforming a wide range of insects. The first confined field trials have already occurred and more are planned. Some projects could be expected to reach full environmental release within 3-5 years. While there have been numerous meetings around the world that focused on scientific issues related to GM insects, there has been less public discussion of the public policy or ethical issues surrounding the environmental release of genetically modified insects. There have been few public forums where scientists, public policymakers, and other opinion leaders interested in GM insects have gathered together to discuss issues surrounding the release of GM insects.
This two-day multidisciplinary workshop provided an exploration of the potential benefits and risks of genetically engineered insects and the public policy and ethical implications of releasing them.