|Playing God With Mosquitoes
(Joe Raedle via Getty Images)
- In 2021, 750 million genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes are set to be released in the Florida Keys and a string of surrounding islands. The Environmental Protection Agency granted permission in May to the British-based but US-operated company, Oxitec, to produce the genetically engineered, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, known as OX5034.
- Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread deadly diseases like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever to humans. Only female mosquitoes bite humans because they need blood to produce eggs. So the plan is to release the GM male mosquitoes who will then hopefully breed with wild female mosquitoes.
- However, the male mosquitoes now carry a protein that will kill off any female offspring before they reach mature biting age. The males, which only feed on nectar, will survive and pass on the genes. Over time this will reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the area and thereby reduce the spread of disease to humans.
- Green-lighting the pilot project, which has been debated for years, drew a swift outcry from environmental groups, who warned of unintended consequences. One group condemned the plan as a public “Jurassic Park experiment.” Activists warn of possible damage to ecosystems, and the potential creation of hybrid, insecticide-resistant mosquitoes. (BBC)