About two million genetically altered mosquitoes could soon be released in Florida and California as part of a pilot program to fend off an invasive mosquito that carries diseases like Zika, yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya.
The new program was created by British biotechnology company Oxitec and was granted approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this week, according to the company’s website.
“Given the growing health threat this mosquito poses across the U.S., we’re working to make this technology available and accessible,” said Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen. “These pilot programs, wherein we can demonstrate the technology’s effectiveness in different climate settings, will play an important role in doing so. We look forward to getting to work this year.”
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Oxitec’s mosquitoes are designed to control the invasive mosquito Aedes aegypti, which first appeared in California in 2013 and showed up in Florida in 2020 for the first time in 75 years, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The species is known for being particularly aggressive when it comes to biting humans and can easily adapt to urban areas, making the likelihood of the insects spreading diseases like Zika and dengue greater than their fellow blood-sucking cousins.
Under the program, Oxitec plans on releasing its altered male mosquitoes, which do not bite, into the states to mate with the females of the invasive species and create offspring that never reach maturity, according to the company’s website.
Oxitec’s website stresses that the altered mosquitoes will not hurt other “beneficial insects,” like bees and butterflies.
Oxitec’s program is an extension of an EPA-approved experimental project to control invasive mosquitoes conducted in the Florida Keys last year. The project did come with its fair share of pushback with critics expressing concern over the potential negative consequences of using genetic engineering to control the bugs.
“When you disrupt an ecological system whether it’s a small disruption or a big disruption, you’re going to have an impact,” Dana Perls, program manager at Friends of the Earth, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group, told USA Today.
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