Marathon, FL—The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) approved the first-ever U.S. release of genetically engineered [GE] mosquitoes.
The GE mosquitoes, a strain of transgenically modified Aedes aegypti, are designed to kill the wild strain, which can transmit yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika fevers.
Board members rejected the proposal for a referendum on November’s ballot, which would have asked Monroe County residents to vote on whether to accept or reject the GE mosquito trial.
The public forum on Oxitec’s recent permit application garnered 31,174 comments opposing release and 56 comments in support.
Community members asked the FKMCD to reject the field trial application, pointing out the lack of data demonstrating that Oxitec’s mosquitoes will be safe and effective, the likelihood that biting females will be released, thus putting humans and animals at risk, and the lack of free and prior informed consent of people living in the area.
Dana Perls, food and technology Program Manager at Friends of the Earth said, “This approval is about maximizing Oxitec’s profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases.”
Scientists have raised concerns that GE mosquitoes could create hybrid wild mosquitoes which could worsen the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and which may be more resistant to insecticides than the original wild mosquitoes.
Environmental groups worry that the spread of the genetically modified male genes into the wild population could potentially harm threatened and endangered species of birds, insects, and mammals that feed on the mosquitoes.
Oxitec has field-trialed their GM mosquitoes in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Panama. In Brazil, researchers from the Powell lab at Yale University confirmed that the mosquito’s engineered genes spread into wild populations of mosquitoes.
In Brazil, people reportedly complained of being forced to breathe in and eat mosquitoes.
Genetic sampling from the target population 6, 12, and 27–30 months after releases commenced provided evidence that portions of the transgenic strain genome have been incorporated into the wild population.
Evidently, rare viable hybrid offspring between the release strain and the wild population are sufficiently robust to be able to reproduce in nature.
Under laboratory conditions, 3%–4% of the offspring from matings of OX513A with wild type do survive to adulthood although they are weak and it is not known if they are fertile.