Local officials in Florida have announced that they have approved the release of 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment to reduce the number of blood-sucking organisms in the state. The decision to release genetically modified mosquitoes is aimed at helping to reduce the number of mosquitoes carrying diseases such as dengue fever or the Zika virus, after environmental groups warned of unintended consequences.
Activists worry that genetically modified mosquitoes could damage ecosystems and increase the likelihood of producing insect-resistant hybrid insects. However, companies involved in genetically modified mosquitoes say this poses no adverse risks to humans and the environment. The company says several government-backed studies have shown no risk to the environment.
Officials plan to release modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys next year, a few months after federal regulators approve them. The company behind the design and breeding of the genetically modified mosquito comes from the United States, called Oxitec. The Environmental Protection Agency allowed the company to release the bug, a genetically engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquito known as OX5034.
It’s a mosquito known to transmit deadly diseases to humans, including the Zika virus, but because all the genetically modified mosquitoes released are male, they don’t bite humans (only female mosquitoes bite humans because they need blood to produce eggs). The only role of genetically modified male mosquitoes is to breed with wild female mosquitoes the next generation with genetic defects. The male mosquito carries a protein that allows its breeding female offspring to die naturally before reaching the age of bite. On the one hand, male mosquitoes feed only on nectar and survive, passing on genes. The goal of the operation is to reduce the number of potentially deadly mosquitoes in the region and the spread of disease from person to person.