In what’s beginning to seem like a tradition,?opponents are speaking out against Oxitec’s plans to release genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. The male (non-biters) Aedes aegypti, or yellow fever mosquitoes, are genetically modified to pass sterility?into wild populations of the insect.?This effectively controls the mosquito population and the associated risk of dengue fever and other diseases. At least that’s the idea.
Genetically Modified Mosquito Swarms Near Panama City
The Panama City area?has a sizable dengue fever problem thanks to the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Last spring, swarms of the genetically modified mosquitoes?were released in a region just west of Panama City. Specifically in April, 2014, a company called?Oxitec?began releasing up?to 60,000 male genetically modified mosquitoes?and continued doing so for?three times a week until the end of the year. This effort reportedly resulted in a 90 percent reduction of the mosquito population in the region.
Unfortunately, Asian tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) may be?ready to fill the hole left by the diminishing Aedes aegypti according to?researchers with The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute?(STRI). The?Asian tigers are known carriers of dengue fever, chikungunya, and other diseases.
STRI researchers?question whether Panama’s first domestically-produced case of chikungunya, which arose while the genetically modified mosquitoes were being released, is evidence that the aggressive Aedes albopictus will create a disease problem that’s as bad, or worse, than the yellow fever mosquitoes.?This is why the researchers fear that Oxitec may be playing a futile game of?“ecological whack-a-mole.”? Oxitec has responded by working on a genetically modified Asian tiger mosquito. It’s beginning to look similar to the classic chase-your-own tail technology cases such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready II, which was approved by the FDA January 15, 2015. Apparently, the new version is needed to combat the super weeds that grew to be resistant to traditional Roundup.
What About Florida?
Oxitec’s Floridian Franken-skeeter plans have been stalled for a few years now. Back in 2012, Key West banned the genetically modified mosquitoes pending further research on potential environmental communications. Oxitec markets the lab mutants as the environmentally friendly alternative to chemicals like?granule and liquid larvaecides, such as BTI and other insecticide sprays. These methods must be doing a fine?job to control?dengue fever and chikungunya in the Florida Keys, as Oxitec points out that those diseases don’t present an active threat to the area.
Despite the ban, Oxitec continues with its plans to unleash the Franken-skeeters and consistently bring experts to speak at a Key area town hall meetings, including this December 2014 meeting at the Harvey Government Center.?It’s yet to be determined exactly how the 90 percent kill ration and discovery of chikungunya near Panama City will impact the debate.