Mosquitoes are known for spreading a number of infectious diseases through their bites. But a trial set to begin in 2021 hopes to slow the spread of these diseases, such as West Nile and Zika.
A plan approved for the Florida Keys will release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes, known as Aedes aegypti, in hopes of reducing the number of bites. The genetically modified mosquitoes are all males, which, unlike female mosquitoes, do not bite humans.
The trial is being conducted by Oxitec, which is based in the UK. Earlier in 2020, the EPA gave Oxitec approval to move forward with the trial.
“To meet today’s public health challenges head-on, the nation needs to facilitate innovation and advance the science around new tools and approaches to better protect the health of all Americans,” the EPA said earlier this year. “After all appropriate approvals are garnered, EPA looks forward to receiving field test results regarding the effectiveness of this promising new tool that could help combat the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District say that the male mosquitoes have been genetically modified to only provide live male offspring when mating with a female.
The experimental use permit begins in 2021, and the trial must conclude by 2022.
Some environmental groups and residents have expressed opposition to the plan. A group opposing the plan said that 2,000 letters were sent to officials requesting the plan be put on hold.
Some are concerned that timing of the trial during a pandemic is not a good policy.
"The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes will needlessly put Floridians, the environment and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic," said Dana Perls, food and technology Program Manager at Friends of the Earth. "This approval is about maximizing Oxitec's profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases."
Others say the plan is ‘risky.’
"The Mosquito Control Board has an obligation to our community, not a vendor that's products are risky and untrustworthy. FKMCD wants to proceed with an experiment that may be damaging to public and environmental health and our local economy," said Barry Wray, Executive Director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition. "We need true solutions to benefit our community and ecosystems."
The mosquito control board responded that mosquitoes developing a higher tolerance for pesticides, and more actions are needed to control the population.
"Any approved tools that show promise in helping control this dangerous mosquito are worth examining to the fullest extent,” Andrea Leal, Executive Director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, said. “We look forward to working with Oxitec and carrying out this trial as it has the potential to increase effective mosquito control in the rest of the United States."