A Biotech company called Oxitec has received permission from the government to release hundreds of millions of genetically modified male mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.
The company claims that these genetically modified mosquitos can help eliminate diseases that are typically carried by mosquitos, such as dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika. 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 obviously a lot of 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.
Last month, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave Oxitec permission to run a pilot project with its genetically-modified mosquitoes until 2022, and Florida granted the company an experimental use permit, which will allow them to get started in the state as soon as possible.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also worked with Oxitec to develop something that they call a "gene drive," which is a genetic modification that is intended to spread through multiple generations of mosquitoes and then leave them sterile or possibly unable to spread certain diseases.
The make critics feel better, Oxitec has branded their mosquitos as "friendly.
Oxitec’s Friendly™ mosquitoes pose no risks to human health or the environment, including fish and other aquatic life, birds, bats, plants, invertebrates, or endangered species, the company said in a press release, according to MSN.
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
However, many experts disagree and have made attempts to organize against this strange use of genetic technology. The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, hosted a “Critical Conversation” on genetically modified mosquitoes, which involved 35 researchers from various different backgrounds, including academia, governments, and nonprofit organizations. The researchers came from many different parts of the world, and were all experts in mosquito biology. The researchers agreed that Oxitec was not transparent about their testing process or about how the mosquitos were engineered.
A previously planned release in the Florida Keys of an earlier version of Oxitec’s GM mosquito was canceled in 2016 after push back from local residents about the potential dangers.
For the recent public forum regarding Oxitec’s recent permit application in the US, there were 31,174 comments opposing the release of the mosquitos and only 56 in support. While the EPA promised to consider these votes during their review process, the permit still went through anyway. According to USA Today, the company has been working toward's this goal for over a decade.
However, Oxitec is already operational in other areas like Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, and Panama. Next, the company hopes to unleash their mosquitos in Texas.