Thousands of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes are Being Distributed in Florida

Hayden Katz Weird /
mosquito lab genetically modified
Jon Cherry Stringer via Getty Images

While most of us usually try to get rid of biting mosquitos, Oxitec, a biotechnology firm is planning to release a new genetically modified mosquito. The intention of experimenting with altered insects is to prevent further diseases from spreading. Including Zika, yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya, and possibly more fatal ones. Around 750 million modified mosquitoes will be released in the Florida Keys.

zika mosquito genetically modified
NurPhoto / Contributor via Getty Images

Infected mosquitos transmit illnesses through their bites, but not all mosquitos carry infections. The specific targetted species being modified are Aedes aegypti. This breed caused an outspread of Zika. Zika was mainly seen affecting countries including Africa and Asia, but back in 2016, mosquitos bites spread the sickness to Brazil, as well as other regions in South and North America, causing an epidemic. The potentially fatal disease caused birth defects in pregnant women, many individuals were scared. Some countries even placed a travel ban to protect their citizens.

mosquito genetically modified science
Jon Cherry / Stringer via Getty Images

After a few years of trying, Oxitec officially received approval from the U.S Food and Drug Administration and from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), allowing the experiment to move forward. The company had used genetic engineering conducted in a lab to alter the genes of the Aedes aegypti male mosquito. By doing so, the insects will now have a self-limiting gene and a fluorescent marker gene. The first gene will cease an important protein from forming. When the protein is missing it halts the development of female baby mosquitos from becoming adults, ultimately terminating the mosquito's ability to procreate. The reason the female Aedes aegypti is targeted is because they are the only mosquitos that bite. The second modified gene will allow experimenters to spot the modified species to track their progress. If the test is successful, then the main goal of removing harmful insects from the wild will be achieved.

bug mosquito genes modified
Jon Cherry / Stringer via Getty Images

While many residents disapprove of releasing even more mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, the EPA has tested the possible complications that could occur. After assessment, they found Oxitec's experiment to be safe for humans. The biotech company was brought on to the project by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD). The FKMCD wanted to get rid of the "invasive mosquito," referring to the Aedes aegypti type, because while this insect only makes up roughly 4% of the population, it produces almost all infections spread.