British biotechnology firm, Oxitec, on Saturday released thousands of genetically modified mosquito eggs in Florida.
This marks the first time genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in the United States.
What’s the purpose of GMO mosquitoes?
According to Oxitec, the newly engineered mosquitoes, known as the OX5034, will help to eliminate the population of aedes aegypti mosquitoes which are notorious for spreading dangerous diseases like dengue and zika.
How do GMO mosquitoes work?
Oxitec says its engineered male mosquito, OX5034, contains a special gene that prevents its female offspring from surviving to adulthood.
Therefore once a female mosquito (only female mosquitoes bite) mates with a GMO mosquito her offspring will not survive and therefore reduce the population of aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
“The second generation of the mosquito allows us to target only the females, and allows the males to continue to go and do more of their work, which helps effectiveness,” said Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen.
“Continual, large-scale releases of these OX5034 GM males should eventually cause the temporary collapse of a wild population,” he added.
Many opposed to the release of GMO mosquitoes
Previously Oxitec had attempted to release its first generation of GMO mosquitoes in Florida but were refused after concerned citizens, which at the time amounted to 100,000 persons, signed a petition against the proposal.
Following a decade long fight, Oxitec has finally succeeded in making Florida the first U.S. test site for what the company has dubbed its ‘friendly’ mosquitoes; however environmentalists are still strongly against the move citing safety concerns.
“We have repeatedly asked for Oxitec to work with us to prove the technology is safe,” said executive director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, Barry Wray in a statement in 2018 after Oxitec applied for its second permit.
Following the latest news, Wray said the “opposition against what the group has dubbed ‘ mutant mosquitoes , has been “long and strong” noting that the company is literally “ forcing this down people’s throats.”
According to another concerned citizen the only thing Floridans can do to fight the move is to utilize an insect fogger.
“You can’t touch a box, but you can fog the s**t out of your own yard if you don’t want to be a part of the trial,” Mara Daly told CNN.
Previously Oxitec tested it first generation of genetically modified mosquitoes, the OX513A , in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil, with Oxitec reporting a large success rate with each release.