The British biotech firm Oxitec has launched a new project to help curve the spread of diseases like dengue and yellow fever in the Florida Keys, and it involves a billion genetically modified mosquitoes.
Looks like we’re getting a few new residents here in South Florida! The biotech firm Oxitec recently launched its new program to help control infectious disease in South Florida by placing cardboard boxes filled with mosquito larvae across the Florida Keys. Oxitec hopes these will help curve the growth of the local Aedes aegypti mosquito population, a species known for spreading diseases like dengue, yellow fever, and zika.
For their pilot project, the firm set up six boxes across the Cudjoe, Ramrod, and Vaca Keys on Thursday, April 29, containing genetically modified mosquito larvae and covered them with water to kickstart their growth cycle. Around 12,000 mosquitoes are expected to emerge in all locations within the next 12 weeks making them the first genetically engineered mosquitoes to be let out into an open ecosystem in the U.S.
Not your average insects, the OX5034 were created in a lab in London and are meant to target the Aedes aegypti species specifically. How will this work you ask? Well, according to Oxitec their genetically modified, non-biting male mosquitoes carry a “self-limiting” gene that is released when they mate with wild, potentially diseased female mosquitoes. The gene is then passed on to their offspring, causing female baby mosquitoes to die before they can reach adulthood.
“The female offspring of these encounters cannot survive, and the population of Aedes aegypti is subsequently controlled.” wrote Oxitec in a press release.
With their two-year Experimental Use Permite approved by the ECA, Oxitec plans to release a billion GMO mosquitos across 6,600 acres in Florida and Texas. But despite having the green light from the EPA, the CDC and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the initiative has been met with a lot of skepticism by locals who are worried about GMO insects may impact humans the other local fauna and flora. But how about you? What do you think of our new genetically modified cohabitants?
[Featured image: Oxitec]