The goal of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes is to fight diseases caused by insects.
The Role of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Oxitec, a biotechnology company, is planning to release genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.
The technology will fight against dengue fever, a life-threatening disease.
It also targets other mosquito-borne viruses, like Zika.
The US recorded over 7,300 dengue cases between 2010 and 2020. But most of the cases have been contracted in the Caribbean and Asia.
But in Florida, there were 41 cases in 2020 related to travel while 71 cases were transmitted locally.
Mosquitoes in Florida are resistant to most insecticides. That’s why scientists are investigating new techniques to manage the insects and the diseases that they carry.
Besides genetically modified mosquitoes, scientists admitted that there are no other tools deemed to be effective.
The use of mosquito nets doesn’t work while scientists still need to develop fully effective vaccines.
Many scientists believe that different approaches have to be provided to reduce the spread and burden of mosquito-related diseases.
And this would include GM mosquitoes.
What Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Do?
These mosquitoes are altered genetically to pass self-limiting genes to their offspring.
When GM males breed with wild female mosquitoes, the result will be a generation of mosquitoes that won’t survive adulthood.
As a result, the overall population will reduce.
The plan to release GM mosquitoes was proposed in 2011. However, many locals and other scientists objected to it.
The locals think that they’re being used as guinea pigs. Some fear the effects of GM mosquitoes on human health and the environment.
But the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District approved the trial.
The biotechnology company said that the delay was the result of a transfer of jurisdiction from the US FDA to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Thus, the company had to reapply for approval to release the new version of GM mosquitoes in the Keys.
First GM Mosquitoes in the US
These GM mosquitoes of Oxitec are the first to be released in the US. But the company has conducted a trial in Brazil using GM mosquitoes.
The company is confident that the technology is effective.
Unfortunately, the plan was met with a lot of criticisms. Several scientists want to stop the trial in Florida. They want Oxitec to provide proof that this technology is necessary for fighting insect-borne diseases.
Furthermore, they asserted that the company didn’t provide other key data. Instead, they only released mostly positive data.
But if the company would release the GM mosquitoes, residents in the Keys will interfere.
Florida Keys residents are disconcerted because they weren’t consulted in this matter.
OX5034 GM Mosquitoes
The GM mosquitoes to be released are called OX5034. They are programmed to fight against the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.
What they do is suppress the population of Aedes aegypti.
Oxitec said that these mosquitoes are friendly as they will only release males. It means that they won’t bite humans or transmit disease. They’re not like female mosquitoes.
Nevertheless, it can be a scary scenario.
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