Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
After a decade of debating, officials in the Florida Keys have voted to allow a flying test of genetically modified mosquitoes to help fight the diseases mosquitoes can spread. Females of the mosquito species Aedes aegypti transmit diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and zika viruses. The genetically modified mosquitoes are males that are released into the wild to mate with females, which causes their female offspring to die. The goal of this is to eventually end the wild female mosquito population of this species, so disease cannot spread (1).
According to North Carolina State University, the company Oxitec that designed these mosquitoes received an experimental use permit from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (1). This permit allows them to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes every week over the next two years in Florida and Texas.
District Board Chairman Phil Goodman says this particular species is difficult to control. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, even with six aircrafts for spraying, kills only about 30 to 50 percent of the local mosquito population for this species (2).
The genetically modified mosquitoes will help get rid of these disease carrying pests, but scientists do not know how an influx of hybrid mosquitoes might affect animals and humans living in the environment around them; it may prove harmful to the local wildlife. Groups such as the Center for Food Safety and Florida Keys Environmental Coalition continue to push back against the decision because of this (3).
Although there are unforeseen risks associated with releasing these genetically modified mosquitoes, worries about mosquito-borne diseases were more compelling. Sometime after January 1, 2021, boxes of eggs of these specially bred male mosquitos will be set out somewhere in Monroe County by Florida workers (2).
Kuzma, J. (2020, June 3). Genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in Florida and Texas beginning this summer – silver bullet or jumping the gun? Genetic Engineering and Society Center. https://research.ncsu.edu/ges/2020/06/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-could-be-released-in-florida-and-texas-beginning-this-summer-silver-bullet-or-jumping-the-gun/
Lanese, N. (2020, August 21). Florida releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to prevent diseases like Zika. Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/genetically-modified-mosquito-florida.html
Thompson, H. (2020, August 22). Genetically modified mosquitoes have been OK’d for a first U.S. test flight. Science News. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-florida-test-release