Millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes approved for release in US for pilot project

  • 2 months   ago
Millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes approved for release in US for pilot project
A plan to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes into US' Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022 has received final approval from local authorities.
 
This is being done under a pilot project -- designed to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a viable alternative to spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti (to be precise, to test if these genetically modified mosquitoes can kill the disease causing ones.)
 
 
The Aedes aegypti is a species of mosquito that carries several deadly diseases, such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
 
The mosquito, named OX5034, has been altered to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage, well before hatching and growing large enough to bite and spread disease. Only the female mosquito bites for blood, which she needs to mature her eggs. Males feed only on nectar, and are thus not a carrier for disease.
 
The mosquito is also approved to be released into Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021, according to Oxitec, the US-owned, British-based company that developed the genetically modified organism (GMO).
 
The Environmental Protection Agency granted Oxitec's request after years of investigating the impact of the genetically altered mosquito on human and environmental health.
 
In June the state of Florida issued an Experimental Use Permit after seven state agencies unanimously approved the project. But it's taken over a decade to obtain that approval.
 
Even though Aedes aegypti is only 1% of its mosquito population, Florida Keys Mosquito Control typically budgets more than $1 million a year, a full tenth of its total funding, to fighting it.
 
OX513A had been field tested in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil, with Oxitec reporting a large success rate with each release.
 
The new male mosquito, OX5034, is programmed to kill only female mosquitoes, with males surviving for multiple generations and passing along the modified genes to subsequent male offspring.
 
The EPA permit requires Oxitec to notify state officials 72 hours before releasing the mosquitoes and conduct ongoing tests for at least 10 weeks to ensure none of the female mosquitoes reach adulthood.
 
However, environmental groups worry that the spread of the genetically modified male genes into the wild population could potentially harm threatened and endangered species of birds, insects and mammals that feed on the mosquitoes.

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