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Sunday, August 1, 2021

Florida Keys releasing lab-engineered mosquitos

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Florida Keys releasing lab-engineered mosquitos
Florida Keys releasing lab-engineered mosquitos

Mosquito-control authorities and a biotech firm are testing genetically engineered mosquitos in the Florida Keys to combat the spread of illnesses such as dengue and yellow fever.

This report produced by Zachary Goelman.

The Florida Keys will be the site of an experiment this summer, releasing genetically-modified mosquitos into the wild.

The project is aimed at reducing the spread of deadly mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue, yellow fever, and the Zika virus.

You’re probably wondering how releasing more mosquitos might lessen the problem.

These Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Designed in a lab, these males carry a gene that, when they reproduce, passes into eggs.

If that egg hatches into a female, the gene kills the immature mosquito.

The hope is that by introducing this gene into wild populations, the population of biting females will plummet.

And that's good news for the rest of us, because only female mosquitos bite, and transmit illnesses to people.

The experiment in the Keys is a partnership between biotech firm Oxitec and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.

Meredith Fensom is the head of Oxitec global public affairs.

"We have a small container, and this is what we put the mosquito eggs in.

[FLASH] We close the lid, and after a week or two, our non-biting male mosquitos begin to emerge." Andrea Leal of the mosquito control district says the experiment comes just in time.

"We are seeing resistance in some of our current control methods, which has made our job at Mosquito Control that much harder.

Nothing out there's a silver bullet.

We're looking to integrate whatever we can into our current control methods just to make sure that we can suppress that population below disease transmission thresholds." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an experimental use permit or EUP to Oxitec at the beginning of May.

Some local environmentalists such as Barry Wray, head of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, say the approval was haphazard and risky.

"You're going to ask the people in our community to be sacrificial lambs, really.

Because how else are you going to produce your mosquitos if it weren't for the people in the Keys donating their blood?" But others aren't scared by the laboratory bugs.

Doug Mader is a local veterinarian.

"I hear all the time that people are afraid of GMOs, and they hear that word and they get an immediate visceral reaction that it has to be bad.

Well it isn't bad.

It's a way to do prevention." Oxitec says similar projects have had over a 90-percent success rate in Brazil, Panama, and Malaysia.