Health officials in Florida are going to release thousands of genetically altered mosquitoes to fight against some disease-spreading species of bugs. The project is a part of an initiative to reduce those species of insects that spread harmful pathogens and germs. This program is called the buzzy project. It is sponsored by a British biotech company called Oxitec. Experts have said that the project has been designed to curb the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are responsible for spreading ailments such as Zika and dengue fever. Health officials have genetically alerted male mosquitoes to mate with non-modified female mosquitoes that bite to infect humans. Experts have used a death mechanism that will prevent the survival of any resulting female mosquito offspring.
The company has said that the project will curb the survival of female mosquito offspring born out of genetically modified male and non-modified female mosquitoes. Therefore, the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will stay in control. The officials of the company have said that altered pests will be released from six locations in the Florida Keys. Around 12000 modified pests will be released each week for the next 12 weeks. This project has been authorized by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Sunshine State, and the local mosquito control district’s board, said the company officials.
There are some local environmentalists who are not in favor of this initiative. They have been protesting against the project for many years. They have said that such a project will harm people and the environment. Mara Daly, who is a resident of Key Largo, has said that the company should perform a simple test to convince locals who are going to be a part of the project trial that the project will not harm the environment and human beings. This project has been approved after years of debates and reviews. The modified pests are expected to be released from six location locations, two on Cudjoe Key, one on Ramrod Key, and three on Vaca Key. Ultimately, the plan is to release hundreds of millions of genetically modified pests. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that genetically altered mosquitoes will carry two types of genes a fluorescent marker gene and a self-limiting gene.
The fluorescent marker gene is the one that shines in red color light and the self-limiting gene prevents female mosquito offspring from surviving further. Experts have said that later, mosquitoes at the target location will be compared with the ones at untreated sites under an Environmental Protection Agency-Approved Project. The evaluation of the project will be done by the CDC and the University of Florida’s Medical Entomology Laboratory. The company Oxitec has said that the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes contribute to 4 percent of the mosquito population in the Keys. The class of mosquitoes is virtually responsible for all mosquito-borne ailments that can be transmitted to humans.
‘The officials have said that mosquitoes have developed a resistance to other control methods; therefore there is a need for new tools to fight against such deadly species of mosquitoes. The executive director of the Mosquito Control District in the Florida Keys, Andrea Leal has said that these tools need to be safe, target-specific, and environment friendly. Nearly more than 7300 cases of dengue have been reported in the US from 2010 to 2020. The CDC has said that largely the transmission has occurred outside the US for most cases. The agency has said during the summer of 2016, around 29 people have been diagnosed with Zika virus within a six-block that has forced officials to aerially spray to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. The EPA has approved the project of the company in 2019 stating that there will be no major effects on humans and the atmosphere.
The company has claimed that a trial of their tool in Brazil has been quite successful. The officials have said that the findings have shown that the tool has not caused any harm to beneficial insects. A similar trial in the Cayman Islands has been delayed in 2016 as many people have protested against the project. Some ecologists are still skeptical about the efficiency of the new tool developed by Oxitec. They have said that the project looks like Jurassic Park Experiment. A non-profit digital science magazine has claimed that Oxitec has been trying to push a trial in Key haven and Key West but the authorities have rejected the plea due to the lack of more safety data. Experts from Oxitec have said that altered gene makes female pests dependent on the antibiotic called tetracycline. Later, they die in the early larval stages due to the lack of this antibiotic.
On the other hand, the EPA has said that the trial will not take place within 500 meters of commercial citrus growing fields or wastewater treatment sites. Contrary to the company’s claim, some experts from Yale University have said that Oxitec’s Brazil trial has shown that some female mosquito offspring of the genetically altered pests have been able to survive to adulthood. However, the officials of the firm have refuted such claims.