750 Million Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Approved For Release into the Florida Keys

A proposal to release over 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022 obtained the final approval from local authorities against many residents and an alliance of environmental advocacy groups. The plan had already won state and federal approval.

What We Know:

  • On Tuesday, officials in the Florida Keys passed the modified bugs’ release — a vote that comes as the region wrestles with outbreaks of dengue, which, earlier this month, had infected up to 26 people this year.
  • The region’s Mosquito Control District’s approval comes months after the Environmental Protection Agency previously approved an experimental use permit that granted the British-based, U.S.-operated company Oxitec permission to release these mosquitoes out into the wild.

  • Oxitec’s mosquito, known as the OX5034, is a genetically modified version of the Aedes aegypti — the type of mosquitoes that carries diseases such as the Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever.
  • OX5034 has been modified into producing female offspring that die in the larval stage, before hatching and growing large enough to bite and spread disease. Only the female mosquito bites for blood. She needs it to age her eggs. Males feed only on nectar and aren’t carriers for the disease.
  • The pilot project is outlined to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a practical option for spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti.
  • Groups of the sterile OX513A, male mosquitoes, will be allowed to live and mate with females; although, their male and female offspring would possess the “kill” programming and die, thus limiting population growth.
  • OX513A had been field-tested in the Cayman Islands, Panama, and Brazil, with Oxitec reporting a significant success rate with each release. For example, a test in an urban area of Brazil reduced the Aedes aegypti by 95%.
  • Public relations campaigns reminding Floridians that the GMO mosquito doesn’t bite because he’s male didn’t completely solve some of the opposition. Media reports have quoted angry residents refusing to be treated as “guinea pigs” for the “superbug” or “Robo-Frankenstein” mosquito.

Environmental groups urge that the spread of the genetically modified male genes into the wild population could possibly harm threatened and endangered species of birds, insects, and mammals that feed on the mosquitoes.