Millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes could be released in the United States

THE US could soon be teeming with genetically modified mosquitoes after the Environmental Protection Agency approved a plan to test the insects.

It is hoped the plan will ward off its natural, disease-causing counterparts.

It is hoped that the genetically engineered mosquitoes will repel the disease-carrying variant (file photo)

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It is hoped that the genetically engineered mosquitoes will repel the disease-carrying variant (file photo)Photo credit: Getty – Contributor

Biotechnology company Oxitec has developed engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are genetically engineered so that males that don’t bite are released into the wild and mate with females that do bite.

Their offspring, male or female, never survive to reach maturity, according to the company.

Last year, millions of mosquitoes were released in the Florida Keys in a pilot project, and the EPA on Monday gave the green light to expand the project in Florida, as well as expand it to four counties in California, pending approval by state regulators.

Meredith Fensom, head of global public affairs at Oxitec, said while the EPA approval covers one county in Florida and four in California and the release of more than 2 billion genetically modified male mosquitoes across the states, the planned rollout is much more limited – only for Florida Keys and expansion to Visalia in Tulare County, California.

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Oxitec said the goal is to reduce the transmission of harmful diseases like dengue, zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.

Although the Aedes aegypti, an invasive species, accounts for only a small fraction of the total mosquito population in Florida, they are responsible for a large number of human disease cases, Fensom said.

Florida only experienced a dengue outbreak in 2020.

The species grows in California, but so far there have been no confirmed cases of dengue, chikungunya, zika, or yellow fever transmitted by the insect, according to state health officials.

The goal of the new study is to examine the genetically modified mosquitoes in two different settings, Fensom said.

The genetically engineered mosquitoes the company produces are males with a “self-limiting gene,” she said.

While the difference can’t be seen with the naked eye, the modified insects produce male and female offspring that can’t survive, Fensom said.

There is hope that over time, as the female population decreases, the overall population will also decrease.

However, the move has met some opposition from environmental groups concerned about the potential impact of the genetically modified insects, reports USA Today.

“This is a destructive move that is dangerous to public health,” said Dana Perls, program manager for food and technology at Friends of the Earth.

A key problem with expanding the Florida project, Perls said, is the lack of widespread, peer-reviewed scientific data over the past year.

Peer-reviewed data is set to be released, according to Fensom, but Perls said there are concerns about a potential risk without more rigorous and public scrutiny.

The lack of confirmed transmission of diseases like dengue, chikungunya, zika or yellow fever by Aedes aegypti in California was also of concern to Perls: “There is no immediate problem and there are a lot of unknowns,” she said.

Perls added that without the data, it’s unclear whether the mosquitoes and their offspring would behave as Oxitec predicted.

There were concerns that a hybrid species could be produced that could be difficult to eradicate, Perls said.

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Fensom said the insects were designed so that the population would die out over time.

“Once you release these mosquitoes into the environment, you can’t recall them,” Perls said. “That could actually create problems that we don’t have yet.”

Ultimately, it is hoped the move will reduce the number of people catching diseases from mosquitoes

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Ultimately, it is hoped the move will reduce the number of people catching diseases from mosquitoesPhoto credit: Getty

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https://www.the-sun.com/tech/4857517/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-released-florida-california/ Millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes could be released in the United States

Chris Barrese

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