Environmentalist groups have been warning about the danger of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild for years, but a plan to release the GM insects in the United States for the first time is scheduled to continue as planned.
Millions of GM mosquitoes will be released in the Florida Keys as a part of a pilot program that officials hope will reduce the spread of diseases like dengue, yellow fever, and the Zika virus.
The unprecedented release is being orchestrated by the British-based biotechnology firm Oxitec, and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), according to Reuters.
The project hopes to reduce the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti species, which is responsible for spreading many infections diseases.
On May 1st, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted an experimental use permit to Oxitecon for the release of the mosquitoes.
While regulators have signed off on the program and are confident of its safety, local residents are obviously very concerned about these insects being released in their back yards.
The plan has already been set into motion, and some of the insects have already been released. Oxitec opened about 6 boxes containing the OX5034 modified mosquito in the Florida Keys last week.
In theory, these genetically modified male mosquitos will mate with wild females, and their genetics will cause the children to die, which they hope will lead to a total collapse of the wild population.
However, there are also many different things that can go wrong with this type of live experiment, and there is growing concern among scientists that this technology may not be ready for deployment. Many experts have also suggested that the risks have not been studied thoroughly enough. Some scientists are warning about the potential unintended consequences that can come from unleashing such insects into the wild. For example, researchers are entirely unaware of what type of allergic reactions that these insects could cause if they interact with people.
Meredith Fensom, Oxitec’s head of global public affairs, told Reuters about the release.
“Inside we have a small container, and this is what we put the mosquito eggs in. We also have a small container for food. We leave it open. And then we fill the box, less than halfway full, with water. We close the lid, and after a week or two, our non-biting male mosquitoes begin to emerge,” she said.
Scientists have begun a new phase in the testing of genetically modified mosquitos designed to help eradicate malaria in Africa. NPR's @robsteinnews explains what the mutation does: pic.twitter.com/XvpYMXghck
— Up First (@UpFirst) February 20, 2019
These boxes contained roughly 12,000 mosquitoes, but the Oxitec says that they plan to release tens of millions of these incects in the region throughout the year.
This is not the first time that the company has released GM mosquitoes into the wild, this is just the first time that it has been done in the United States. Oxitec has previously launched similar projects in places like Brazil, Panama, the Cayman Islands and Malaysia, where they claim to have a success rate of over 90%.
The mosquitoes have also been designed to emit a fluorescent glow, so that when they are captured.
Genetically modified mosquitoes have been released for the first time in the United States, taking flight in the Florida Keys in a pilot program intended to reduce the spread of deadly diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and the Zika virus. https://t.co/w6ftrakFnQ
— Reuters Health (@Reuters_Health) May 10, 2021
“That’s how we monitor for the project before, during and after to understand the mosquito population,” Fensom explained.
However, many experts disagree with the plan and have made attempts to organize against this strange use of genetic technology.