The government of Florida has just approved the release of several hundred million mosquitoes, genetically modified, to attack the disease-spreading invasive mosquitoes, and upend their very existence through tweaked genes.
The pilot project by a firm Britain-based, US-operated company called Oxitec will release an estimated 750-million male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are known as OX5034, according to the company’s statement.
These mosquitoes will be genetically re-engineered to tame the other variant of mosquitoes that spread dangerous diseases like the Zika virus, dengue, and yellow fever that infect millions.
Female Aedes aegypti only bites humans and animals because their reproductive capabilities depend on blood. But male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes survive on nectars.
The goal of the project will be to ensure the modified males will mate with the females and introduce a protein in their bodies which will kill off any female mosquitoes before they reach the biting age.
It is being expected, with time, the males will pass on their genes in the mosquitoes population in Florida. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) gave a nod to introduce the millions of mosquitoes in the open over a period of two-years.
Disdain over ‘mutant bug’
However, as clever the plan sounds, it has been received with dissent from different groups, including some environmental activists who have claimed the method is experimental.
The BBC noted, a change.org petition has 240,000 people demanding to stop the ‘experiment’ citing the company behind the plan is using the US “as a testing ground for these mutant bugs”.
Other groups have also warned over a possibility of these mosquitoes will become hybrid insecticide resistance varients. However, Oxitec, which claims to make – friendly and powerful technology for a changing planet – said their bio-solution has no impact on the environment.
According to Oxitec, the recent FKMCD nod precedes the government agency’s invitation to the pilot project 10 years back. “The FKMCD’s approval comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and seven government agencies in Florida approved an Experimental Use Permit (EUP), following an exhaustive regulatory assessment that included more than 70 scientific and technical documents, 4,500 pages of material, and 25 commissioned scientific studies,” the company says in a release.
According to the WHO, 350 million people are infected with dengue annually, further endangering half of the world’s population. In the past two decades, the number of people infected with dengue has increased 15-times.