The striped-legged Aedes aegypti mosquito has been genetically modified to prevent transmission of illnesses and has received federal approval, from the EPA, for release in the Florida Keys and in Houston, Texas in 2021. However, state and local approval is still needed. The reason for this effort is to combat the spread of the dengue fever and the Zika virus which is transferred to humans through mosquitos. These diseases can have a devastating effect on the public which scientists hope to contest with these altered, experimental mosquitos.
The UK-based biotechnology company performing the experiment, Oxitec, proposes the mosquitos that are modified will be males only. This is due to fact that only females transmit disease because they feed on humans. Male mosquitos, however, don’t need to bite humans because they feed on pollen. The modification takes place when the males mate with the females. The genetic modification will cause the female offspring to die in infancy. Only the males will live to adulthood, lowering the spread of disease.
Photo: @LittleIvan via Twenty20
The experiment has been said to work well in other regions such as the Cayman Islands and Brazil. Over a billion GM mosquitos have been released in past experiments, allegedly without any harm to humans or to the environment. The non-GMO activists, however, have voiced their concern that the experiment will harm mosquito predators by altering their genes and therefore homeostasis of the planet. One environmental group deem the plan “The Jurassic Park experiment.” Change.org started a petition against the plan that reached nearly 240,000 signatures.
Federal regulators have approved for 750 million GM mosquitos to be released in Houston in 2021, but the biotechnology company still needs approval from state and local officials. At this time, there doesn’t appear to be any agreement in place to move forward with the release.