Are Bill Gates’ genetically modified mosquitoes going to be released in Singapore?

By March 7, 2024 Health

We’ve seen posts and messages on local chat groups about the expanding plans for dengue prevention in Singapore in 2024 in the past few days –  with claims specifically that “Bill Gates’ mosquitoes” will be released, causing harm to public health.Claims about Gates (even specifically about Gates and mosquitoes) have been perennial fixtures for years, returning every few months with different angles – such as Gates’ wider plan to depopulate the earth, infect the general population with viruses, or to intentionally weaken healthcare systems for monetary gain.Given that 2024 heralds new expansions in Singapore’s suppression strategies when it comes to mosquito-borne diseases, we took a closer look to untangle the facts and identify any misinformation.

GMO Mosquitoes?

The concept of “GMO mosquitos” is a key part of this claim. In our research, we found that there are two main types of mosquito suppression strategy that involve releasing mosquitoes into the environment, and it appears that many claims (and even some news articles) conflate and confuse the two.

One strategy does involve genetically modifying and releasing male mosquitoes with a gene that disrupts and prevents the development of any female offspring they produce. As only female mosquitos bite and suck blood, this limits the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.

Black Dot Research has also conducted a fact check previously on claims about this biotechnology, which has not been implemented as widely as the second form of mosquito control: releasing Wolbachia infected mosquitoes.

Wolbachia is a naturally occurring insect-specific bacteria that, in disease-transmitting Aedes mosquitos, disrupts and reduces transmission in several ways. For one, female Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos have less ability and capacity to transmit viruses to humans. And, when male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos mate with female mosquitos without Wolbachia any eggs produced do not hatch – suppressing the mosquito population.

Some Wolbachia programs (for instance those run by the World Mosquito Program) involve replacing mosquito populations in certain regions with both male and female Wolbachia-infected mosquitos – utilising a one-time release system to alter the entire population and reduce the incidence of transmission. In the case of Singapore, National Environmental Agency’s “Project Wolbachia” involves only releasing male Wolbachia-infected mosquitos to suppress the Aedes population without increasing the biting female population. As NEA notes on their website, mosquitoes bred for this purpose are not genetically modified – no change is made to their genetic material during the infection process, and the specific species of mosquito is the exact same as those already existing in Singapore’s environment.Lab grown or bred, in this case, should not be conflated with genetically modified – and neither the mosquitos nor the Wolbachia bacteria are genetically altered.  Claims which either conflate Wolbachia-based strategies with GMO or which suggest that Singapore is releasing GMO mosquitoes are therefore inaccurate.

Bill Gates?

As BDR and other platforms have pointed out in previous fact-checks, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has provided funds and grants to a whole range of causes, organisations, and businesses. The Gates’ involvement with mosquito-borne diseases (including Dengue, Zika, and Malaria among others) does exist and has done for decades.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has supported and funded causes such as the World Mosquito Program, and start-up companies producing related products. However, as other fact-checks consistently point out, this does not give Bill Gates power or control over the day-to-day running of these organisations – nor even a decision-making role in their direction or scope. Therefore, the direct association with Gates – and the term “Bill Gates’ mosquitos” is inaccurate.

Further, in Singapore’s case, this is even less accurate given that the NEA and Project Wolbachia is not associated with programmes funded by the Gates’ Foundation. While the most widely known and large-scale initiatives have been run by the World Mosquito Project, Singapore’s own initiatives are run by a multi-agency group including Orinno Technology, Verily Life Sciences, and the National Robotics Programme. The technologies and strategies used are different and are unaffiliated with Bill Gates or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Therefore, the claim that “Bill Gates’ GMO mosquitoes” are being released in Singapore is highly misleading on several different levels.

In Singapore, Project Wolbachia has been running since 2016. Despite dengue surges occurring in 2020 and 2022 in the wake of warm, wet weather and a new strain of dengue becoming dominant, no causal relationship between the release of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes and surges in dengue have been observed. Rather, smaller study sites across Singapore have actually recorded positive impacts and notable decreases in mosquito population and dengue infection. This despite other external factors – such as climate change – nevertheless contributing to the continued existence of the dengue risk.

The frequency with which news sites and posters mix up mosquito suppression strategies is an example of how easily confusion, and in some cases, intentional misleading framing can result in widespread misunderstandings being spread as fact. Referencing official resources such as NEA’s Project Wolbachia page can help to limit confusion – as can responsible reporting and consumption practices. This is crucial particularly for claims relating to public health which can cause heightened fear and anxiety.

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