A release of GM mosquitoes will happen in the Florida Keys again. These are Aedes aegypti genetically-modified mosquitoes. It is another milestone in the United States. The aim of this experiment is to have bioengineered pest control.
Starting the Experiment
The release of these GM mosquitoes started last April 2021. The Oxitec workers, together with local mosquito control personnel, activated the hatching process of the engineered mosquito eggs in a dozen plastic boxes. They distributed these boxes in six locations in the Keys. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved the use of these mosquitoes. These insects have a self-limiting gene that gives off a deadly protein.
They have tetracycline in them to prevent the gene from activating. The eggs then hatch in the wild without tetracycline. The gene kills immature females. The males mature and mate with the wild female mosquitoes. This allows the males to pass the self-limiting gene. The females that hatch die off. The same experiment ran for 13 weeks in Brazil. It resulted in a 95% fall in the mosquito population. The goal is to replicate the results in the U.S. Also, to prove that the technology is effective.
Oxitec believes that its work can benefit mankind in a significant way. Climate change is bringing more disease-causing microorganisms and insects. Releasing these GM mosquitoes is a control measure for growing mosquito populations. This could even diminish the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. The current pandemic shows how vulnerable the human population is to infectious diseases. Many of these ailments spread through mosquito bites. Oxitec aims to develop new ways to allow humans to live on the planet.
Effectiveness of GM Mosquitoes
These GM mosquitoes are only effective for targeted species. In this case, it is the Aedes aegypti. Many areas have more than only one type of mosquito. These insects are not harmful to the environment, people, or animals. They can lower the risk of an outbreak’s onset.
The EPA controls the release of GM mosquitoes in any area of the United States. The organization should grant an Experimental Use Permit before the insects are released. The use of these insects also needs the approval of local and state authorities.
This project aims to stop the spread of many Aedes aegypti-borne diseases like heartworm, dengue fever, yellow fever, and Zika. One GM mosquito program released male mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria. This bacteria made the young mosquitoes sterile. These mosquitoes were released in Miami back in 2018 and in the Keys back in 2017. It seems that the Aedes aegypti mosquito holds an even greater hazard because it carries the Zika virus. It was thought of before as a harmless strain confined in Africa and Asia. Then, the Aedes mosquito started spreading it in the west. Bitten pregnant women started giving birth to babies with specific defects. The populations of Aedes were reduced by about 80 percent because of the GM mosquitoes.
Agree and Disagree About These GM Mosquitoes
Many people still do not agree with this effort. They continue to disagree even if the release of GM mosquitoes has been a proactive method in vector control. Some even spread the news that there will be harmful reactions if a person is bitten by Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes. But the company’s mosquitoes are only male ones. They lack the components for biting. This makes allegations baseless.
Another group of people says that the effectiveness slowly fades. This is because the females in the area are not mating with the Oxitec males anymore. This is not true at all. The mosquito population stays suppressed. This has occurred weeks after the GM mosquitoes were released. The hearsay about the mosquitoes are causing the onset of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not true.
These engineered insects are proving to be more effective than fogging or pesticides. They suppress Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in various areas. Continuing this project can lead to a downturn in many harmful and alarming diseases this mosquito carries. This mosquito releasing effort can lead to the longevity of humans and animals. It can also remove the health threat that Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases bring about.