Science

Florida Keys To Use Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes To Combat Zika Virus

Florida Keys To Use Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes To Combat Zika Virus”

Aedes aegypti is a mosquito that spreads diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, Chikungunya, and syphilis. But it does transmit several diseases to humans, particularly in the Keys island chain where almost 50 cases of Dengue fever have been reported so far this year.

The green-lighting of a pilot project after years of debate drew a swift outcry from environmental groups, who warned of unintended consequences.

The company says that it has released 1 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the last few years. The male mosquitoes, which don't bite, would contain a genetic change in a protein that would render any female offspring unable to survive - thus reducing the population of the insects that transmit disease, in theory.

A gaggle has condemned the scheme, calling it a "Jurassic Park experiment". Their biggest worries are the creation of hybrids between wild and modified mosquitoes, and possible damage to the ecosystems that these insects are part of.

During the mating process, the male mosquitos, called OX5034, are created to produce a female offspring which then dies before it reaches biting age. Hundreds of millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes are soon to be released in America. They have been empowered by the US Environmental Agency and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Agency (FKMCD) to release the genetically-modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which cause the diseases. Males, which only feed on nectar, will survive and pass on the genes.

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"Residents and visitors need to remain vigilant and take the appropriate actions to prevent mosquitoes from biting", said Andrea Leal, executive director for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.

The project has been widely criticized in the USA, with over 240,000 people signing a petition demanding that the project be scrapped. Females feed on blood, therefore carrying diseases.

According to Oxitec's website, the company has found positive results conducting field trials in Brazil.

In a statement denouncing the project, environmental group Friends of the Earth said: "The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes will needlessly put Floridians, the environment and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic". "While the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District acts to address the mosquito population, it is important to remember that the rainy season continues through the rest of the year. There is no potential for risk to the environment or humans", an Oxitec scientist told AP news agency.



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