Local officials in Florida have announced that they have approved 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes to be released into the environment to reduce local populations of the bloodsucking creatures. The goal of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes is to help reduce the number of mosquitoes carrying diseases like dengue or the Zika virus. Approval to release the bugs came after environmental groups warned of unintended consequences.
The activists feared that the genetically modified mosquitoes could damage ecosystems and raise the potential of a hybrid insect being created that is insecticide-resistant. However, the company involved with the genetically modified mosquitoes says there will be no adverse risk to humans or the environment. Multiple government-backed studies have shown no risk to the environment, according to the company.
Officials intend to release the modified mosquitoes next year in the Florida Keys, months after federal regulators approved them. The company behind the bugs is from the US and is called Oxitec. The Environmental Protection Agency gave the company permission to release the bugs, genetically engineered, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes known as OX5034.
That is the type of mosquito known to spread deadly diseases to humans, including Zika, among others. The reason all of the genetically modified mosquitoes are male is because they don’t bite humans. Only female mosquitoes bite humans because they need blood to produce eggs. The hope is that the genetically modified male mosquitoes will breed with the wild female mosquitoes.
The male mosquitoes carry a protein that will kill any female offspring before they reach mature biting age. The males only feed on nectar and will survive and pass on the genes. The goal is to reduce the population of the potentially deadly mosquitoes in the area and reduce the spread of disease to humans.