Story at a glance
- Female aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito, can carry disease, including dengue, yellow fever, Zika and chikungunya.
- As part of public health efforts against a dengue outbreak in Florida, lawmakers have approved a new project to eliminate the female mosquitoes entirely.
- The release of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys has been met with pushback from some residents.
The first signs of summer are quickly overshadowed once mosquitoes return in many parts of the United States. But a new experiment in Florida might spell the end for the blood-thirsty suckers.
Mosquito lovers (if you exist), don’t worry, the species isn’t going to disappear entirely. Instead, the male Aedes aegypti has been modified to only create live male offspring, which don’t bite, when mating in the wild with female mosquitoes, which do bite.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District approved Oxitec’s proposal to release these mosquitoes into the wild under an experimental use permit, targeting the invasive species that can carry dengue, yellow fever, Zika and chikungunya and is already developing a tolerance for many pesticides.
Oxitec will release 12,000 mosquitoes per week for 12 weeks, totaling 144,000. The biotech company has permission to release 750 million mosquitoes, but does not plan to get close to that amount.
“We are in need of new tools to combat this mosquito,” said Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. “And
The project, which has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Florida Department of Health, targets the carriers after an outbreak of dengue fever hit the region last summer. Small, focused projects will begin this month in a select number of neighborhoods between mile markers 10 and 93 in the Florida Keys, where residents are being asked to host mosquito release boxes or mosquito traps.
“We’re looking forward to working hand-in-hand with the Keys community to demonstrate the effectiveness of our safe, sustainable technology in light of the growing challenges controlling this disease-spreading mosquito,” said Grey Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec, in a release last August.
But not all residents are on board. In February, about two dozen protesters demonstrated against the genetically-modified insects, reported the Miami Herald, and questioned the company’s success.
Last year, similar mosquitoes were released in Indaiatuba, Brazil, as part of public health efforts against dengue and suppressed up to 95 percent of disease-carrying Aedes aegypti, according to the company. But emails obtained by an activist group reportedly found that much of one government paper reporting a 62 percent suppression rate was written by Oxitec.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect that 144,000 mosquitoes are expected to be released in 12 weeks, and Oxitec does not plan on releasing the 750 million allowed under the EPA permit.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW