The first trial in the United States with genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to control the population of the insect that transmits diseases such as dengue, Zika and yellow fever begins this week in the Florida Keys .
After more than 10 years of progress and setbacks to achieve project approval, the British company Oxitec, which receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have begun to place the first boxes with millions of OX5034 mosquito eggs and the The first insects, all males, will be flying freely throughout the month of May.
Previously, Florida state authorities and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the green light to the pilot test with the commercially called “Oxitec friendly mosquito” , which has aroused the rejection of environmentalists and also some scientists.
The boxes have been placed in six places in the island chain between the Florida peninsula (USA) and Cuba and fewer than 12,000 mosquitoes will emerge from them every week for twelve weeks, which means that counting all the waves there will be about 144,000 ” OX5034 “those released.
Traditional mosquito traps will be tested at three other sites to compare the results, Oxitec said in a statement.
According to a study prepared by EPA technicians, the Oxitec mosquito ” does not pose any risk to human health or the environment, including protected species.”
Once out of the boxes, the genetically modified male mosquitoes will mix with the local population of their species.
But, due to a gene created in the laboratory, the females arising from the crossing of these males with the “natural” females, which are the ones that transmit diseases, will not be able to survive and in this way the population of Aedes aegypti can be controlled .
Few, but dangerous
Although they are only 4% of the mosquito population of the Keys, where some 46 species of these insects live, the Aedes aegypti are practically the only ones that transmit diseases.
In 2020, coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic, a dengue outbreak broke out in the Florida Keys as it had not seen for 10 years, with more than 50 cases and other outbreaks of Nile fever, also transmitted by mosquitoes, in different areas of Florida.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Agency (FKMCD) said in a statement that “new tools” are needed to combat this species of mosquito and given the unique ecosystem of the islands it needs to be ” a safe, environmentally friendly and controlled way “.
Oxitec CEO Gray Frandsen said the pilot test is the result of a public-private partnership and that the company is committed to “demonstrating the value of this technology . ”
This is not the first time that Oxitec, founded in the UK in 2002, has tested its genetically modified mosquitoes.
In the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba, the Oxitec mosquito was able to reduce urban environments prone to dengue by up to 95% in just 13 weeks of treatment, compared to places where no mosquitoes were released, the company said.
Republican Congressman Carlos Giménez, a former Miami mayor, recently announced that he was going to ask EPA for an additional investigation , and the Environmental Coalition of the Keys has launched several campaigns and initiatives to protest against the Oxitec mosquito test and complain that it the public was not consulted.
“Once released it will be impossible to contain the amount of these genetically modified mosquitoes, they will be literally everywhere the wind blows,” read a campaign launched last August on Change.org by the Coalition.