by Egor Kamelev
Featured Science

The release of Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes

In a world where science offers vast new kinds of solutions to our modern problem, it is only a matter of time until scientists tinkle in genetics. Using such methods to offer the world an opportunity, scientists have been modifying mosquitoes as a way to solve the problem regarding them in Florida and other countries around the world. Though experts have been working on this field for quite a while, the local authorities have only just approved their release. Thus, in 2021 and 2022, Florida keys will witness the release of over  750 million genetically modified mosquitoes.

The pilot project

The experiment was first pitched as a solution for the disease outbreak caused by the mosquitoes. In May, the Environment Protection Agency approved the pilot project aimed to determine whether a genetically modified mosquito can provide a viable alternative to spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti. Such mosquito species are known to transmit several deadly diseases, including Zika, dengue, chikungunya as well as yellow fever.

Thus, the scientists modified the genes of a female mosquito named OX5034 in a way that only allows it to produce a broken female offspring. Therefore, the offspring will die in the larval stage way before it can grow large enough to bite and spread disease. Furthermore, since only the female mosquito bites and consume blood, the males’ genes won’t need any modification. 

OX5034’s trials have also won the approval of the federals. Hence, in 2021, such creatures will also be released into Harris County, Texas. Moreover, according to The Environmental Protection Agency, it has only granted its approval after years of investigating the impact of the genetically altered mosquito on human and environmental health. 

“This is an exciting development because it represents the ground-breaking work of hundreds of passionate people over more than a decade in multiple countries, all of whom want to protect communities from dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and other vector-borne diseases,” Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen said in a statement at the time.

Texas’s approval

Though the federals greenlit the experiment in Texas, it has yet to win over the approval of both the state and the locals according to a communication specialist with Harris County Public Health. He stated that  “Local health officials confirm that there is no agreement in place or plans to move forward with the project at this time”. He also added that for now, their “ focus is on our efforts with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A Jurassic Park experiment

While many relish with this news, others are rightfully well concerned. The plan has an ingrowing number of critics including 240,000 people who signed a petition on Change.org. The petition revolved around slamming down Oxitec’s plan to use US states “as a testing ground for these mutant bugs”.

Moreover, many environmental groups are against the project. this includes the environmental group “Friends of the Earth” that stated, “The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes will needlessly put Floridians, the environment and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic.”

Many are fearing that instead of a solution, this experiment will offer us a whole new set of problems. Thus, the policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, announced that “With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida — the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment.”

However, an Oxitec scientist assured the AP news agency explaining the project’s safety. He said that “We have released over a billion of our mosquitoes over the years. There is no potential for risk to the environment or humans”.

While modifying genetics is a huge feat on its own, such an experiment will affect a whole species. Officials shouldn’t just roll with it without taking precautions or figuring out their long-lasting impact. 

References:

 Allan, B. (2020, June 3). Genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in Florida and Texas beginning this summer – silver bullet or jumping the gun? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-could-be-released-in-florida-and-texas-beginning-this-summer-silver-bullet-or-jumping-the-gun-139710Associated Press. (2020, August 24). The Florida Keys releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to fight illness. Tampa Bay Times. https://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/2020/08/20/florida-keys-releasing-genetically-modified-mosquitoes-to-fight-illness/BBC News. (2020, August 20). Florida to release a wave of modified mosquitoes. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53856776Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Will be Released in Florida. (2020, August 23). LabRoots. https://www.labroots.com/trending/genetics-and-genomics/18483/genetically-engineered-mosquitoes-released-floridaHarrell, S. (2020, August 21). Florida Will Release Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fight Disease in the Keys. Bay news. https://www.baynews9.com/fl/tampa/news/2020/08/21/florida-to-release-genetically-modified-mosquitoes-in-the-keyshawker. (2020). https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1325811/flordia-keys-latest-mosquito-modified-disease-virus-health-science. Express. https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1325811/flordia-keys-latest-mosquito-modified-disease-virus-health-science