GM moth larvae produced at a British university could help reduce dramatically the number of animals used in laboratory testing, say UK researchers. Jim Drury reports.
Lab testing of moth larvae like this could drastically cut the number of animals used in scientific research. University of Exeter spin-off BioSystems Technologies Ltd says larvae is as effective as mammals in testing the toxicity of chemicals and efficacy of antibiotic compounds. It's also more ethical - and cheaper. SOUNDBITE (English) DR OLIVIA CHAMPION, MOLECULAR MICROBIOLOGIST AND FOUNDER/CEO OF BIOSYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "It's actually really expensive to work with mice or with other mammals. If you're a research institution you spend a huge amount of grant income on actually carrying out the experiments in mammals and research larvae - the larvae that we produce - are a fraction of the cost of working with mammals." The potential of moth larvae isn't new, but until now sourcing reliable specimens has been tough. SOUNDBITE (English) DR OLIVIA CHAMPION, MOLECULAR MICROBIOLOGIST AND FOUNDER/CEO OF BIOSYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "Everybody who used the larvae had to buy them as fishing bait. everybody who used the larvae had to buy them as fishing bait. So they would have to go online to tackle shops or stop off at their local pet shops and buy tubs of grubs." The company sells Galleria Mellonella wax moth larvae through the post to other scientists. SOUNDBITE (English) DR OLIVIA CHAMPION, MOLECULAR MICROBIOLOGIST AND FOUNDER/CEO OF BIOSYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "We breed them from a defined genetic background. We've genome sequenced the breeding colony, and so we know that all the larvae come from the same genetic stock, the larvae are age defined and they're weight defined, they're surface decontaminated." SOUNDBITE (English) DR NICOLA SENIOR, BUSINESS MANAGER FOR BIOSYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "With the particular pathogen we're using at the moment we would expect all the galleria to be dead within about 19 hours. So if we come back at that time point and we still have live larvae that have been injected with the pathogen and with the extract then we know that the extract is having a protective effect against the action of the pathogen." The product won't end animal testing. If a compound proves successful in tests, further research using mammals might then follow. But the company says it eliminates many potential compounds at an early stage - and could cut the numbers of animals tested by up to 80 percent.