Young Caymanians to work on GM mosquito release

| 24/05/2016
CNS Local Life

(L-R) Isavella Evangelou, Heidi Groves, Giselle Johnson and Kenroy Millwood at work

(CNS): Oxitec, the biotechnology company producing genetically modified mosquitos, has hired four young people, including three Caymanians, to work on a pioneering project launched in Cayman earlier this month to control the insects. Cayman’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) has rolled out this initiative in collaboration with Oxitec, and aims to combat the dangerous Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

The new Caymanian employees are Kenroy Millwood, 23, who has a master’s degree in geoscience research and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science; Giselle Johnson, 23, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in science; and Heidi Groves, 19, who graduated from Cayman Prep and High School last year with biology as one of her top subjects.

All three are from West Bay, where the new control measures will initially be rolled out and the team is engaging in a community-education programme about the project.

Fourth new hire Isavella Evangelou, who is originally from Cyprus, is married to a Caymanian. She has a bachelor’s degree in biological science and a master’s in molecular pathology and toxicology.

MRCU director Dr Bill Petrie praised the four new employees for their work so far, describing them as bright, enthusiastic and courteous.

“It is very gratifying to see that Oxitec has been able to employ local young people for this collaborative project,” he said. “They are working alongside MRCU staff in our offices, laboratories and out in the field.”

The new hires all spoke of their eagerness to take part in the project.

“Since returning home (from school) in September, it took me eight months to find work in the science field,” said Millwood. “I feel lucky to be included on the team and I look forward to working on such a beneficial project.”

Oxitec’s technology produces genetically engineered non-biting male mosquitos that breed with the disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti females, whose offspring then inherit a gene that causes them to die before reaching adulthood, ensuring they do not reproduce.

“I was interested in this particular job because it was science-related and because of what Oxitec is doing,” said Johnson. “Their goal of reducing the population of the primary vector that spreads Zika, chikungunya and dengue disease caught my attention. I wanted to be part of a company making a difference in the world via science and I am happy to be working with them.”

Groves had also been searching for a science-related job since leaving school, and Evangelou wants to work in the field of biology to learn more about mosquito-borne diseases and how they spread.

The community-engagement segment of the initiative will be ongoing throughout the next couple of weeks, with the first modified mosquitoes expected to be released in selected areas of West Bay in June.

“We are very happy to have local Caymanians working on this pioneering mosquito-control technique,” said Oxitec’s on-island project manager Dr Renaud Lacroix. “Not only is this giving employment opportunities in the field of science but the end results of controlling the dangerous Aedes aegypti mosquito will benefit everybody in the Cayman Islands.”

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Category: Medical and Health

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