A Brittish lab, Oxitec, has genetically modified mosquitoes to help combat mosquito born illnesses that are popping up in the Florida Keys, and are targeting this Spring for their release. Officials say that dengue and chikungunya are horribly painful viral ailments that are becoming more of a threat to the U.S. Dengue is better known as a fever that has been called, broken bone, due to the fact that it is as painful as breaking a bone. Chikungunya is also a mosquito born disease that leaves its victims with rashes and joint pain that can last years.
Residents are skeptical and have signed a Change.org petition to stop this release of the mutant insects. Florida’s director of the Keys Mosquito Control, has stated that this is basically using this genetically modified bug to cure diseases. In fact there is a bit of science to it, as the Brittish company Oxitech has a site in Marathon Key that is breeding this hybrid in hopes of releasing them on the Keys as soon as this coming Spring.
As if these diseases are not scary enough, these mosquitoes are genetically modified with parts from the herpes virus, Ecoli, and even coral and, why not, cabbage. This combination has shown to be not harmful to animals but is effective at killing the larvae of mosquitoes. What Oxtec is proposing is to release only the males of the species, as they do not seek out blood as the females do. In theory these mutants will then mate with the females native to the Keys, and then the eggs will die, thus cutting down the population as a whole.
Field tests have been run in the Cayman Islands as well as Brazil with very favorable results, and both wanting a bigger production to be released. It is said that the Cayman Islands reduced the bug population by 96%, which is amazing. That being said, critics are saying that residents were not told that there was a chance that a genetically modified female could have been missed, and that they have a chance of being bitten by one of the mutants. Oxitec has said that even if bitten by one of these lab mosquitoes none of their modified DNA would enter the bloodstream.
Many of Oxitec’s critics are highly skeptical that no modified DNA could get into the humans bloodstreams, even though it is highly unlikely, it seems to be a gray area. The companies spokeswoman Chris Creese stated that millions of these genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in numerous countries, and their have been no reports that any complications have come of it, and no impact on humans have been reported. They maintain that the proteins are “non-toxic” and “non-allergenic.”
Many a scientist has weighed in on this debate, with most taking the stance that Oxitec could do more to prove that these insects are not harmful to humans. Guy Reeves, a geneticist in Germany, says that they need to prove that the synthetic parts of the mosquitoes DNA will cause no ill effects when humans come in contact with the mosquitoes. Residents of the Florida Keys certainly agree with the experts, and hope to learn more, or stop the release of these genetically modified mosquitoes all together.
By Kristi Cereska