The latest news tells us that researchers are actively seeking FDA approval to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. When the news story first broke, millions of Floridians reacted in horror at the thought of adding more mosquitoes to an area that is sometimes already overloaded with mosquitoes. In an effort to better explain exactly what these researchers are thinking, we’ve decided to do a little digging.
Fact: Only the male mosquitoes are being released. These male mosquitoes do not bite humans and are being released in order to help stop the reproduction of baby mosquitoes. In fact, it’s the female mosquito that is known to carry disease such as dengue and chikungunya.
Fact: It is thought that by breeding out the mosquitoes, the levels of diseases spread by the mosquito would then also drop, which helps keep Floridians safe.
Fact: Although the word “genetic modification” brings to mind all kinds of terrifying lab accidents, the modification done to the mosquito population is really one in which makes them die in the larval stage. The mosquito gene is mixed with a synthetic DNA that contains the herpes simplex virus, E. Coli and cabbage, among other things. The mixture has been used before in laboratories and has never posed any risk to living animals.
Fact: Oxitec, the British company breeding the modified mosquitoes, has already released mosquitoes in other areas of the world with decent short-term success.
Here’s the problem: Researchers aren’t always that great at understanding the impact of introducing non-native species into the Florida wildlife. Look at all the “accidental” releases of non-native species and the impact they have on our current habitat! The python and lionfish are great examples of this.
In addition, Oxitec’s process uses manual labor to remove the females from the population. It is very possible that the biting female will eventually get loose. Although a bite from a genetically modified mosquito is thought to be safe for humans, there are no studies that prove this hypothesis.
The natives on Key Haven, which is the first location being recommended for the mosquito release, have created petitions trying to stop the approval in its track. To date, over 130,000 people have signed petitions insisting that the FDA withhold approval.
Finally, these two viral diseases are extremely rare in the United States. Oxitec states that it’s only a matter of time before we start to see a rise in these debilitating diseases. As regular mosquitoes are becoming more resistant to the current insecticides used and as tropical diseases are easy to spread in this global culture, Oxitec claims that using insects as weapons are the next logical step to help safeguard humans.