Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia`s Health Minister on Sunday said the country would carry out a landmark field trial by releasing genetically modified mosquitoes designed to combat dengue fever by the end of the year.
Liow Tiong Lai said the delayed field trials, which were to have begun this month, were now back on track as laboratory tests had been done and the country`s biosafety board had approved the mosquitoes` release into a controlled environment.
"Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the GM anti-dengue mosquito trial will take place by the end of this year," Liow told a news agency.
"On my side everything is clear. Now it`s under the ministry of natural resources and environment, who will submit the plan to cabinet for final approval," he said.
Malaysia`s death rate from dengue fever has spiralled 53 percent this year and the public is being urged to take action to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes -- which spread dengue -- from homes and workplaces.
Liow`s comments came ahead of a World Health Organisation regional meeting starting on Monday in the Malaysian capital.
WHO regional director Shin Young-Soo welcomed the field trials.
"Over the last 10 years the number of dengue cases in the world has doubled and the situation this year is significantly worse than last year, so we welcome how Malaysia is responding to this threat," he said.
In the first experiment of its kind in Asia, 2,000-3,000 male Aedes mosquitoes are to be released in two Malaysian states.
The insects in the study have been engineered so that their offspring quickly die, curbing the growth of the population in a technique researchers hope could eventually eradicate the dengue mosquito altogether.
Females of the Aedes species are responsible for spreading dengue fever.
However, environmentalists are concerned the GM mosquito could fail to prevent dengue and could also have unintended consequences.
Critics have said the larvae will only die if their environment is free of tetracycline, an antibiotic commonly used for medical and veterinary purposes.
Dengue infection leads to a sudden onset of fever with severe headaches, muscle and joint pains, and rashes, which can lead to death if left untreated.