British company Oxitec has launched transgenic mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, in the United States, to study how to control their reproduction and thus limit the spread of chronic diseases transmitted by insects such as dengue fever and the Zika virus.
The company, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced the placement of its confined release funds, non-release funds, and quality control funds this week in six locations: two in Cudjoe Key, one in Ramrod Key, and three in Vaca Key.
More than 100,000 mosquitoes
By the start of next month, fewer than 12,000 mosquitoes are expected to appear per week for about 12 weeks. Untreated comparison sites will be controlled with mosquito traps at Key Colony Beach, Little Torch Key, and Summerland Key.
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“We started looking at this a decade ago because we were in the middle of an outbreak of dengue fever in the Florida Keys,” Andrea Lyell, executive director of the Florida Keys area for mosquito control, said during a videoconference. “So we are very excited to further this partnership, and work with both Oxitec and members of the community.”
Authorities in the Keys Islands approved the pilot project last year with the mosquito Aedes aegypti, which is not native to Florida. This insect transmits many diseases to humans, especially in the Keys island chain, where dozens of dengue cases were recorded last year.
Previously, Florida authorities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the green light to pilot testing using the brand name “Oxitec friendly mosquito”, Which sparked the rejection of environmentalists as well as some scientists.
According to a study by EPA technicians, the Oxitec mosquito “poses no danger to human health or the environment, including protected species.”
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Republican Congressman Carlos Jimenez, former Mayor of Miami, recently announced that he would request additional investigation from the Environmental Protection Agency, and he launched the Environmental Keys Environmental Coalition Various campaigns and initiatives to protest against the Oxitec mosquito test and complain about not consulting the public.
“Once released, it will be impossible to contain the amount of these GM mosquitoes, and you will be literally everywhere the wind blows,” according to a campaign launched by the coalition last August on the Change.org website.
Reducing the population of Aedes aegypti
Once out of the boxes, the male of transgenic mosquitoes will mix with locals of their own species. But, Because of the gene created in the laboratory, the females that arise from crossing these males with the “normal” females, which transmit diseases, will not be able to survive. In this way, the population of Aedes aegypti can be controlled.
The male offspring will not die, but rather, will become a carrier of the gene and pass it on to future generations. As more females die, the Aedes aegypti population should decrease.
The only ones who transmit diseases
Although it makes up only 4% of the mosquito population in Keys, where about 46 species of these insects live, Aedes aegypti is the only transmitter of disease.
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In 2020, coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic, an outbreak of dengue fever broke out in the Florida Keys, as it had not been seen for 10 years., With more than 50 other cases and outbreaks of Nile fever, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes, in various areas of Florida.
The Florida Keys mosquito control agency said in a statement that “new tools” are needed to combat this type of mosquito, and given the islands’ unique ecosystem, they should be “in a safe, non-aggressive manner. Environmentally friendly and manageable.”
Oxitec CEO Gray Franceson stated that the beta testing is the result of a public-private partnership and that the company is committed to “Demonstrate the value of this technology.”
Tests in Brazil
This isn’t the first time that Oxitec, which was founded in the United Kingdom in 2002, has tested genetically modified mosquitoes.
In the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba, the Oxitec mosquito was able to reduce up to 95% The company said that urban environments are prone to dengue fever within only 13 weeks of treatment, compared to places where no mosquitoes were released.