Billions of genetically engineered male mosquitos will be released in California and Florida over the next two years, as part of a mission to kill off biting females.
Oxitec, based in Oxford UK, is a biological pest control development firm, that’s produced the edited version of the flying insects to fight mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue, yellow fever and Zika.
Male Aedes aegypti mosquitos don’t bite humans, but females do, and so the genetic modification causes females to die off shortly after being born.
The project has been cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the first wave is expected to be released this year, although it isn’t clear exactly when this will happen, as it needs state regulatory approval in Florida and California.
It isn’t likely to be a problem in Florida, as the state played host to a trial last year that saw millions of the same type of Oxitec mosquitos released in the Florida Keys.
Not everyone supports the idea, including Friends of the Earth, which describes it as a destructive move that’s dangerous for public health.
The EPA cleared the technology, giving Oxitec an experimental use permit that permits them to release 2.4 billion edited mosquitoes between 2022 and 2024.
In total two billion will be released in California, and another 400 million in Florida, where millions are already circulating through the mosquito population.
The male insects have been genetically altered to express the protein tTAV-OX5034, which results in the death of any newly born females.
The species, Aedes aegypti, isn’t native to either California or Florida but has started to become an intrusive nuisance, bringing multiple human diseases.
It’s been known to spread Dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever.
The idea behind the modification was to kill off any female offspring before they reach adulthood and are able to go out and bite humans, spreading these diseases.
This would also work to decrease the population of the intrusive species, further hindering disease transmission, although that’s still theoretical.
The altered species have been put through numerous trials and tests, to ensure the modification won’t harm ecosystems or humans.
Dr Robert Gould, President of San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, said that once emitted into the environment, genetically engineered mosquitoes couldn’t be recalled, and that rather than forging ahead with an unregulated open-air genetic experiment, they’d need precautionary action, transparent data and proper risk assessments.
But how can we possibly know all the consequences of this action?
We can understand the logic and as humans, we have one constant that never alters, and that is that no human is perfect, and we should never allow ourselves to believe that any vaccine, cure or solution was intended for every human, and that scientists should never risk overconfidence in themselves when making a cure, that it could if overlooked cause a human being to die or be seriously ill, and to create something is great, but never overlook that it’s not flawless and that they could be risking human life because nobody should lack common sense, particularly scientists because nobody is perfect and errors can and will be made.
And is it actually our role to gender identify mosquitoes?
In certain parts of the US, people are continually swatting mosquitoes, sometimes killing hundreds at night in their living room, and they’d daren’t have the windows open, but they just come through the doors anyhow, and people swat them all, regardless of gender.
We shouldn’t be meddling with nature, and after COVID I wouldn’t imagine that many people want anything that’s modified being released on them.