The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted approval the release of more than 2 billion genetically modified mosquitoes in the states of California and Floridawith the aim of combating diseases such as dengue fever and the Zika virus.
The pilot project is the product of British biotech company Oxitec, which specializes in biological pest control. The project is an extension of a successful pilot carried out in the Keys archipelago in 2021.
Oxitec plans to release 2.4 billion non-biting Aedes aegypti mosquitoesgenetically engineered to produce only viable male offspring. When males reproduce, they pass the self-limiting gene to the next generation. In this way, the population of Aedes aegypti becomes overloaded with males, leading to a population decline.
A work inside
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is originally from Africa but has since spread to tropical and subtropical regions around the world. It was first discovered in California in 2013 before a range expansion in the United States, spreading the species to more than 25 states.
Aedes aegypti is known to spread a number of deadly diseases including dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika virus and chikungunya. The species feeds on a range of birds and mammals, with humans being preferred.
However, as with all mosquitoes, Only females feed on blood and use it to mature their eggs. Males are harmless and do not spread disease, preferring to eat fruit.
“Given the growing health threat posed by this mosquito in the United States, we are working to make this technology available and accessible,” said Gray Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec. “These pilot programs where we can demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology in different climatic contextswill play an important role in that.”
Genetically modifying male mosquitoes to prevent them from producing female offspring is an effective way to reduce mosquito populations and is a more environmentally friendly solution than using pesticides. Pyrethroids — a group of pesticides commonly used to control mosquitoes — are toxic to insects like bees and dragonflies, as well as aquatic life.
Opponents question security
While the EPA stated that The project is harmless to people and the environment, opponents fear unintended consequencesespecially with regard to the possible interaction of mosquitoes with the antibiotic tetracycline.
This antibiotic is found in farm wastewater and is known to reverse genetic changes in mosquitoes, allowing the production of female offspring.
The EPA has therefore stipulated that mosquitoes may not be released within 500 meters of sewage treatment plants, ranching areas or orchards.. In order for the project to proceed, it is now up to state regulators in Florida and California to issue permits to Oxitec.