More than 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes will be released into the Florida Keys in the next two years after the plan received final approval from US authorities on Tuesday. The aim is to reduce the number of mosquitoes that carry diseases like dengue or the Zika virus.
This pilot project is designed to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a viable alternative to spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti. Notably, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are known to spread deadly diseases such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Currently, the Florida Keys is dealing with an outbreak of dengue and 47 people have been infected so far this year.
In May, the US Environmental Agency granted permission to the British-based, US-operated company Oxitec to produce the genetically engineered, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are known as OX5034. These mosquitoes will be released into the wild through “field tests,” the company said in a press release.
”These particular mosquitoes are male, and they’re genetically modified to carry a protein that will inhibit the survival of their female offspring when they mate with wild female mosquitoes,” Oxitec says.
Female mosquitoes bite for blood while they mature their eggs, but males do not carry the diseases as they feed on nectar, according to Sky News.
However, prior to the approval of the project, activists warned of possible damage to ecosystems, and the potential creation of hybrid, insecticide-resistant mosquitoes.
”With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida — the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment,” said Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, in a statement released Wednesday.
This project will be the first of its kind in the US but a similar trial was conducted in Brazil in 2016, where researchers recorded a decline in disease-carrying mosquitoes.