The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently debating the decision to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. The release of the mosquitoes would be in an effort to stop dengue fever and other dangerous diseases that are currently being spread by a particular species of mosquito called Aedes aegypti. If the FDA approves, the mosquitoes may be scheduled for a release as early as spring of 2015.
Florida Keys Mosquito Problem
The Florida Keys is one of the most susceptible areas of the United States to vector diseases like dengue fever, also called chikungunya. Mosquito populations are spreading vector diseases at high rates, and the Keys is particularly vulnerable due to its close proximity to the equator and the Caribbean where some of these diseases are more common.
Experts are worried that dangerous diseases have an increased likelihood of spreading when infected visitors come into the area. When carrying diseases like dengue fever, individuals can be infectious for up to several days. Each mosquito that bites these individuals will become infected, and then each person bitten by those mosquitoes afterward may contract the disease.
The Keys regularly sprays popular neighborhoods with pesticides to help control the mosquito population. But this particular species of mosquito has grown so accustomed to the pesticides that they have become resistant to most of them, making the pesticide treatment useless for controlling their populations.
Oxitec’s GM Mosquito
A British company called Oxitec was launched by researchers at Oxford University. More than a decade ago, Oxitec patented a method which they use to breed Aedes aegypti. This method is only applied to male mosquitoes, as female mosquitoes are the only ones who bites humans to feed for blood. These modified male mosquitoes breed with females, who pass the male’s genes into their eggs.
The genetic modification is effective because the mosquitoes that are born will die before they reach adulthood. Similar experiments have already been conducted in countries like Brazil, Malaysia, and the Cayman islands. They have shown to reduce the Aedes aegypti population by up to ninety percent.
The Debate Continues
As the Florida Keys awaits FDA approval, the issue has sparked controversy. While all testing so far has indicated that the experiment is safe, many are wary of the unforeseen affects that this experiment could have on the fragile ecosystem of the Florida Keys. Many demand that more research needs to be done to ensure that the release is a safe idea.