WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- The EPA has approved the release of genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys in an attempt to control mosquito-borne diseases.
- Local residents and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups are opposed to the idea, even calling the project a “‘Jurassic Park experiment”.
- The backbone of this genetic project is based on the production of male mosquitoes that carry a “self-limiting gene,” that reduces the lifespan of female mosquitos that transmit disease.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the release of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in a bid to control mosquito-borne diseases. Per the documents provided, British Biotech Group Oxitec has an experimental use permit, expected to last until 2022.
This project on mosquito genome will do field trials using a mosquito strain that can reduce local populations of Aedes aegypti that transmit disease. Oxitec arranges for the release of “friendly” mosquitoes in Monroe County, Florida and Harris County, Texas.
The key to understanding the concept behind this project lies with mosquito physiology. Female A. aegypti mosquitoes are the main vectors that transmit diseases including yellow fever, dengue fever and Zika. For this reason, the project is structured to produce male mosquitoes that carry a “self-limiting gene.”
This alteration on the mosquito genome will produce female offspring with reduced lifespans and male offspring with similar genotype as their male parent. Theoretically, this lowers the general A. aegypti population over time.
“There is broad consensus amongst public health officials in the U.S. that a new generation of safe, targeted and cost-effective vector control tools are needed urgently to combat the growing threat posed by Aedes aegypti without impacting the ecosystem,” Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen said in a statement.
Oxitec has tested this method in Indaiatuba, near São Paulo, Brazil and succeeded in reducing local populations of A. aegypti from May 2018 to 2019. The company observed that the genetically-modified mosquitoes managed to suppress the population of A. aegypti up to 96% within a four-week period.
This project on mosquito genetics is not without controversy. Change.org filed petitions that draw numerous supporters, calling for the rejection of the proposal for field trials. The petition received over 230,000 signatures. The Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth US and other advocacy groups in the country have forwarded their disapproval.
Policy Director for the Center for Food Safety, Jaydee Hanson called the mosquito project a “‘Jurassic Park’ experiment” in a statement. She said that EPA had “unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks.”
“The Florida Keys and Houston and the surrounding communities are home to some of the most diverse and threatened species in our country,” Dana Perls, food and technology program manager of Friends of the Earth US, said in the same statement.
“Once again, the Trump administration is callously disregarding scientific experts and the will of communities to force this risky experiment through,” he added.