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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Released for the First Time in Florida

Jun, 2021

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Biotechnology firm, Oxitec earlier released its Aedesaegypti mosquitoes in countries such as Brazil and Malaysia, among others to control disease spread.

Oxitec, a biotech firm have released their mosquitoes which were genetically modified, in Florida Keys. The goal is to suppress the disease-carrying and wild population of mosquitoes in this region. It's the very first time when mosquitoes that are genetically modified were released in the U.S.Previously, the company released Aedesaegypti modified mosquitoes in Brazil, Panama, Malaysia and Cayman Islands and reported up to 90% fall in the population of A. aegypti mosquitoes in these locations. A. aegyptiare able to carry diseases including dengue, yellow fever, zika and chikungunya. Releasing these modified mosquitoes provides a way to control the numbers without even the need of using pesticides.

Oxitec's mosquitoes are all male and are engineered for carrying a mortal gene. When these mate with the wild female ones, this lethal gene is passed on to the offspring. Although this gene has no effect on the males but it stops the necessary protein build in the female offspring which causes their death earlier to reach maturity.

Among mosquitoes only the females bite people (males drink exclusively nectar), which is why these modified mosquitoes and their remaining male offspring are unable to infect humans with disease. Annually US$ 1 million are budgeted by The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) board for pest control, making use of costly measures including spraying of aerial insecticides. Releasing these genetically modified pests in populations of hundreds of millions can be a comparatively cheaper and efficient option, the board stated, especially when over time mosquitos become immune to pesticides.

Oxitec was first approached by FKMCD in 2010, and after the regulatory evaluations local pushback, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the board approved this plan of releasing the genetically modified mosquitoes in Keys. In the latter half of April 2021, boxes containing mosquito eggs were placed by the company at 6 locations including Cudjoe Key, Vaca Key and Ramrod Key. Around 12000 recently hatched male mosquitoes are likely to emerge from these boxes within next 12 weeks.

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