According to the company Oxitec, they have been given approval by the EPA to test their modified mosquitoes here in the US. While this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about GM mosquitoes here in the US it is interesting and making headlines as a result.
This will be the first time the company has tested their mosquitoes here in the US and the approval statement was posted back in May of this year. It seems they could be releasing these mosquitoes some time this summer but that all depends on local approval and whether they get it. While some are quite concerned over this, others don’t seem to care either way.
The company wrote as follows on the topic back in May after getting the go-ahead from the EPA:
Today, after extensive evaluation of the best available science and public input, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted an experimental use permit (EUP) to Oxitec Ltd. to field test the use of genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as a way to reduce mosquito populations to protect public health from mosquito-borne illnesses.
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. 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 EUP is designed to test the effectiveness of genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as a way to reduce mosquito populations in a controlled environment with appropriate safeguards as a first step to potentially wider use in the United States. The company must receive state and local approval before proceeding with field testing.
Oxitec’s carefully developed field tests will be conducted, if approved by state and local authorities, over a two-year period in Monroe County, Florida, beginning in summer 2020, and in Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021.
During these field tests, Oxitec will release into the environment male mosquitoes genetically modified to carry a protein that will inhibit the survival of their female offspring when they mate with wild female mosquitoes. The male offspring will survive to become fully functional adults with the same genetic modification, providing multi-generational effectiveness that could ultimately lead to a reduction in Aedes aegypti mosquito populations in the release areas. EPA anticipates that this could be an effective tool to combat the spread of certain mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus in light of growing resistance to current insecticides.
They also noted that only male mosquitoes will be released and that males do not bite people. This meaning they do not pose any kind of risk to the public. That all having been said, it does seem like the company is still waiting for approval from state officials and local officials in the areas release is planned for. Some are worried that these mosquitoes could end up causing some kind of hybrid mosquito to be born and that in itself could cause issues but at the moment we don’t quite know if that will happen or not as well as how possible that would even be with these specific mosquitoes.
USA Today wrote as follows recently on the topic:
Male mosquitoes don’t bite; they feed on flower nectar. Basically, male mosquitoes are harmless to humans. But female mosquitoes use blood to grow their eggs.
Oxitec created a male mosquito with a special gene that prevents female offspring from surviving to adulthood. The new males grow up, mate with more females and over time the number of Aedes Aegypti declines.
“Continual, large-scale releases of these OX5034 GM males should eventually cause the temporary collapse of a wild population,” according to Oxitec.
In Brazil, which suffered a Zika outbreak in 2015 and 2016, the company claims its “friendly” mosquitoes reduced the population of Aedes Aegypti by 89% to 96%.
Is there opposition to these genetically modified mosquitoes?
Oxitec has been trying to make Florida the first U.S. test site for its “friendly” mosquitoes for nearly a decade.
The company came close in 2016, but local officials in Monroe County (the Florida Keys) ultimately voted no. Oxitec pulled its request and decided to try again with what it described as an upgraded version of the mosquito. That’s what the EPA approved May 1.
What do you think about all of this? I for one think it could go either way but the EPA approval does make it seem more likely. Perhaps we will be seeing GM mosquitoes flying around soon.