Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Be Released in the Florida Keys?

Genetically ModifiedIt is in the hands of the Food and Drug Administration on whether or not millions of mosquitoes that have been genetically modified, will be released in the Florida Keys. The reason this is even being considered, is to combat against a couple of viral diseases that are exceptionally painful. This would be a first, as never has anyone even considered the possibility of releasing anything of this nature into residential neighborhoods.

The two diseases that are in question here are dengue and chikungunya which have shown up in the U.S., and Key West being the southern most point, it is here that has given these diseases entrance into the states. Climate change is also a contributor to the spreading of these diseases, as well as the ships that make stops in the popular Key West island. Residents are against the releasing of these genetically modified pests and have signed a petition saying just that. Most that are entertaining this possibility are also asking for proof that this could be a solution to this spread of viral diseases. Residents know that year round the Keys are sprayed with insecticides, but some of these mosquitoes have become resistant to these chemicals.

The crux of the thoughts behind the releasing of these genetically modified mosquitoes is that only the males will be released, as they do not bite looking for blood as the females do. These males will then in theory mate with the females that already exist, and then their eggs will die, thus effectively making a vast reduction in the mosquito population. Oxitec has a lab in Marathon Key that is breeding these high breeds in hopes to release them in Key West as early as this Spring.

The FDA has stated that no field tests will be done until they have reviewed all information. Oxitec spokeswomen, Chris Creese, says that testing has been done in the Cayman Islands and it suppressed 96% of the bugs targeted. Brazil also has had a successful test and both Brazil and the Cayman Islands want to take this to a larger scale project. Dengue is a mosquito born disease, commonly referred to as the ‘breakbone’ fever, which is descriptive of the pain one is in when afflicted with this virus. Chikungunya is also a virus that is contracted through mosquitoes, and the victim of this illness can have joint pain that can last years. Officials are stating that this is a proactive approach to coming threats, according to those backing the need for genetically modified insects. Dengue and chikungunya have no known cures or vaccines and they are exceptionally painful diseases, although the reported cases of these ailments is rare, officials want to keep it that way. It is not clear yet whether the release of millions of genetically modified  mosquitoes will find their home in the Florida Keys, and residents have done what they can to stop it, so only time will tell if this will become a reality.

By Kristi Cereska

Photo attributed to Ramón Portellano – Flickr License
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