Tens of thousands of male mosquitoes descend on the Florida Keys. But these are not ordinary mosquitoes: they are genetically modifiedand they were planted deliberately around the state. This is part of a plan to control the disease by releasing 1 billion mosquitoes in two countries, but it is giving some people a buggy.
Workers placed boxes of mosquito eggs – two on Cudjoe Key, one on Ramrod Key and three on Vaca Key – on Thursday and expect to hatch in about a week. They will do it repeat process over the next few months, releasing 12,000 of the errors per week for 12 weeks. This is a total of 144,000 mosquitoes – gross.
The project marks the first time GMO mosquitoes have ever been released in the United States, launched by the Florida Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) with private British biotechnology company Oxitec. This is an attempt to limit the spread of dengue, zika and yellow fever.
“As we see the development of resistance to some of our current control methods, we need new tools to control this mosquito,” said Andrea Leel, executive director of the Florida Keys mosquito area. statement.
The idea is that GMO mosquitoes will reduce the populations of Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito species common in Florida Keys that spread these insect-borne diseases. In the keys this variety represents only 4% of the total mosquito population. But they caused 70 cases of dengue fever in Key Largo last year, and the risk of spreading other diseases is a huge concern.
Only females from Aedes aegypti species bite humans for blood to mature their eggs. So scientists have created GMO mosquitoes, which they call OX5034 species, to produce female offspring that die like larvae. Oxitec, the company behind GMO mosquitoes, and FKMCD hope the bugs will mate with females Aedes aegypti someone’s. Because female offspring cannot survive long enough to reproduce, this will reduce the population of mosquito-borne diseases. They hope anyway.
This is only the first stage of the project. Oxitec has received authorization for experimental use by the Environmental Protection Agency to release 1 billion of these genetically modified mosquitoes on an area of 6,600 acres in Florida and Texas over the next two years.
Oxitec claims that this method is “safe” and “environmentally friendly”. It boasts a successful experience with field tests the Cayman Islands, Panama, Malaysia and Brazil. It too notes that the project was approved from the EPA and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Florida, and also has support from the Centers for Disease Control and advice from independent advisors.
But Keys residents aren’t so sure that launching GMO mosquitoes is a good idea. And they have reason to worry. Local citizens said Vice that they were not informed exactly where the bugs would be released until Friday before they started to be released. This is the least schematic and rude behavior.
Yale University in 2019 study also warned that the plan could backfire. These scientists found that while most female offspring of GMO bugs die, between 3% and 4% of them usually survive into adulthood, and this is it is not clear whether they are infertile. This means that when mated with disease-spreading mosquitoes, Oxitec mosquitoes can create hybrid babies that could actually be more resistant to insecticides than wild mosquitoes and worsen the spread of the disease.
There is also fears about how laboratory mosquitoes will interact with Florida Keys ecosystems. One field study of mosquitoes from Brazil found that bug engineering genes spread in wild mosquito populations. It is not clear what environmental effects Keys could have in Florida, which is worrying because the region is home to such rich and sensitive habitats. Last month, a panel to independent experts testified before the Florida Mosquito Board Keys, raising these issues. Lawyers are urging the EPA to end the project, although some mistakes are about to end in the wild.
“The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes puts Floridians, the environment and endangered species in the midst of a pandemic,” said Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth. statement. “This message is about maximizing Oxitec’s profits, not the urgent need to tackle mosquito-borne diseases.”