There are a lot of misconceptions about the genetically modified mosquitoes that could be released in the Florida Keys. The experiment has been conducted in other countries, such as the Cayman Islands, and experts say it isn’t as dangerous as it seems.
Aedes Aegypti, a species of mosquito introduced to the U.S. from Egypt, carries two serious diseases: dengue and chikungunya. Dengue can infect up to 100 million people worldwide each year.
Beth Ranson, public education and information officer for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, said this would be the first time GMO mosquitos would be released in the U.S., but other GMO insects have been released before.
The project is aimed to target only the Aedes Aegypti species of mosquito out of the 46 species present in the Florida Keys.
Oxitec Limited, the company that would be working on the GMO mosquitos if the FDA approves the project, says its goal is for mosquito control groups to have the tools they need to keep the numbers of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes down. This would help avoid epidemic outbreaks because prevention is the best defense.
Communications manager for Oxitec Chris Creese explained that only the male GMO mosquitos would be released in the wild to mate with females. This causes the offspring of the mosquito to die young.
“It’s true there are misconceptions causing some confusion,” Creese said in an email. “There are no diseases in the technology. This mosquito control method uses the mosquito as a tool to fight itself.”
Walter Tabachnick, UF director of genetics and vector competence, said the chance the release could cause problems is low.
“I believe the risks of the release that are proposed in the Keys are likely minor,” Tabachnick said.
However, he added he can’t predict the effects of the mosquitoes.
If this project is approved by the FDA, the insects would not last long in the wild.
“The released insects and their offspring die, so they don’t stay in the environment,” Creese said. “For example, in Cayman Islands after the releases for that project were stopped, there were no adult mosquitoes left within 14 days.”
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 1/30/2015 under the headline “Genetically modified mosquitoes might be released in Florida Keys"]