British company Oxitec has launched transgenic mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, in the United States, to study how to control their reproduction and thus limit the spread of chronic diseases transmitted by insects such as dengue fever and the Zika virus.
The company, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced the placement of its confined release funds, non-release funds, and quality control funds this week in six locations: two in Cudjoe Key, one in Ramrod Key, and three in Vaca Key.
Why is the Oxitec mosquito different? According to the company, the males in its insect cloud carry a modified gene called OX5034, which restricts the survival of the females they mate with.
More than 100,000 mosquitoes
As of early next month, fewer than 12,000 mosquitoes are expected to appear per week for about 12 weeks. Untreated comparison sites will be controlled with mosquito traps at Key Colony Beach, Little Torch Key, and Summerland Key.
“We started looking at this a decade ago because we were in the middle of an outbreak of dengue fever in the Florida Keys,” Andrea Lyell, executive director of the Florida Keys area for mosquito control, said during a videoconference. “So we are very excited to further this partnership, and work with both Oxitec and members of the community.”
Last year the Keys authorities approved the pilot project with mosquitoes Aedes aegyptiShe is not a Florida native. This insect transmits many diseases to humans, especially in the Keys island chain, where dozens of dengue cases were recorded last year.
Oxitec, the UK-based company Abingdon that developed mosquitoes, has previously tested the insects in Brazil (pictured), Panama, the Cayman Islands and Malaysia.
Mosquitoes wake up oxytic to reject environmentalists
Previously, Florida authorities and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the green light to pilot testing using “Oxitec friendly mosquitoes,” which has drawn disapproval from environmentalists as well as some scientists.
According to a study by EPA technicians, the Oxitec mosquito “poses no danger to human health or the environment, including protected species.”
Republican Congressman Carlos Jimenez, former Mayor of Miami, recently announced that he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct an additional investigation, and the Environmental Keys Coalition has launched numerous campaigns and initiatives to protest the Oxitec mosquito testing and grouch at the public. He was not consulted.
“Once released, it will be impossible to contain the amount of these GM mosquitoes, and you will be literally everywhere the wind blows,” according to a campaign the coalition launched last August on the Change.org website.
A technician from UK biotech company Oxitec inspects the cocoons of the transgenic Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Reducing the population Aedes aegypti
Once out of the boxes, the male of transgenic mosquitoes will mix with locals of their own species. However, due to the gene created in the laboratory, the females that arise from interbreeding these males with the “normal” females, who carry diseases, will not be able to survive. Aedes aegypti.
The male offspring will not die, but rather, will become a carrier of the gene and pass it on to future generations. As more females die, the Aedes aegypti population should decrease.
The Aedes aegypti They are almost the only ones who transmit diseases
Although they only make up 4% of the mosquito population in the Keys, where around 46 species of these insects live, mosquitoes Aedes aegypti They are practically the only ones who transmit diseases.
In 2020, coinciding with the COVID-19 epidemic, an outbreak of dengue fever broke out in the Florida Keys as not seen in 10 years, with more than 50 other cases and outbreaks of Nile fever, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes, in various areas of Florida.
Florida Keys Mosquito Control Agency (FKMCD) said in a statement that “new tools” are needed to control this type of mosquito, and given the islands’ unique ecosystem, it must be a “safe, environmentally friendly and controlled method.”
Gray Frandsen, Oxitec CEO, said the pilot testing is the result of a public-private partnership and the company is committed to “demonstrating the value of this technology.”
Male genetically modified “Aedes aegypti” mosquitoes at the Oxitec plant in Campinas, Brazil, January 28, 2016.
Tests in Brazil
This isn’t the first time that Oxitec, which was founded in the United Kingdom in 2002, has tested genetically modified mosquitoes.
The company said the Oxitec mosquito in the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba was able to reduce urban environments vulnerable to dengue by up to 95% in just 13 weeks of treatment, compared to places where no mosquitos were released.
FEW (AP, EFE, nature)