A company that develops genetically modified mosquitoes is now one step closer to releasing millions of its mosquitoes in Florida and California.
If you live in those states, there’s no need to worry. These mosquitoes don’t bite, and neither will their offspring, which is the whole objective.
U.K.-based Oxitec produces and genetically modifies the non-biting Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as part of a program intended to reduce the transmission of harmful diseases such as dengue, Zika, and yellow fever.
The genetically modified mosquitoes were released in the Florida Keys in a pilot project last year. Now the Environmental Protection Agency has approved a plan for the release of up to 2 billion of the mosquitoes in Florida as well as California for more testing.
“Given the growing health threat this mosquito poses across the U.S., we’re working to make this technology available and accessible,” Grey Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec, said in a statement. “These pilot programs, wherein we can demonstrate the technology’s effectiveness in different climate settings, will play an important role in doing so. We look forward to getting to work this year.”
Interestingly, male mosquitoes don’t bite humans or animals because they feed on nectar from flowers. The flip side of the coin is that female mosquitoes do bite humans and animals because they need a blood meal so they can produce eggs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the mosquito bite itself may itch, the bite may also lead to the spread of disease. For example, the Aedes aegypti mosquito is responsible for transmitting diseases that include dengue, Zika, and yellow fever to humans, as well as transmitting heartworm and other potentially deadly diseases to pets.
Here’s how Oxitec’s science works: It only produces male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry what’s called a “self-limiting gene,” according to the company.
When the genetically modified male mosquitoes mate with the local biting female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, their female offspring don’t survive. And while their male offspring do survive, they too have the self-limiting gene.
Theoretically, as time passes, an area’s overall mosquito population falls as a result of declining numbers of female mosquitoes able to lay eggs.
Now that the EPA has approved the release of the genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida and California, the next step is for Oxitec to submit applications to state regulators for approval.
Although the EPA approval notes that more than 2 billion genetically modified male mosquitoes may be released across the two states, the planned launch will be limited, Meredith Fensom, head of global public affairs at Oxitec, said, according to USA Today.
Indeed, the Florida pilot project will be a continuation of Oxitec’s partnership with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which ran a pilot study last year. The California pilot project is being planned as a partnership with the Delta Mosquito and Vector Control District in Tulare County, according to Oxitec.
Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, worked with Oxitec last year when the company released 144,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.
“After a successful start to our project in 2021, we look forward to continuing our partnership with Oxitec,” Leal said in a statement. “We made significant progress during the pilot project last year, so we look forward to continuing this important work during this year’s mosquito season.”
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