Genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes could soon buzz around in California and Florida after the federal government greenlighted a plan to release the insects in the states.
The project is spearheaded by biotechnology firm Oxitec, which, among other things, specializes in biological pest control solutions.
“Oxitec’s Friendly™ safe, non-biting male mosquitoes are designed to suppress local wild populations of disease-spreading mosquitoes,” Oxitec’s website states.
According to the company, the genetically modified mosquitoes have a “self-limiting gene,” which ensures that when the “Friendly™ mosquito males mate with wild females, their offspring inherit a copy of this gene.”
The gene stops female offspring from maturing into adulthood, culling their reproducibility. However, male offspring carrying the gene will survive and pass those on to their offspring, the company said.
After the eggs hatch into brown mosquito larvae, researchers conduct several tests to ascertain whether the genetic modifications were successfully embedded in the hatchlings, according to LA Times. The non-biting males are then released into the wild.
The Environmental Protection Agency published its approval for the insects’ release on March 7. The permit applies only to Florida and California, where the company will release them within Florida’s Monore county and California’s Stanislaus, Fresno, Tulare and San Bernardino countries.
However, before the release, the Environmental Protection Agency requires Oxitec to obtain relevant permissions from state and local authorities.
Before shipping or using the “material,” Oxitec must “consult with the pesticide regulatory officials of the states in which you will conduct your experimental program,” the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention told Oxitec representative Keith A. Matthews in the letter informing the firm of the approval.
In a March 8 news release, the company said it will apply for the relevant state permits for the release.
The firm’s Florida insect release is part of a partnership with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, the company said. The company had previously released such genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys in 2021, according to USA Today.
The California release is part of Oxitec’s partnership with Tulare County’s Delta Mosquito and Vector Control District.
The project has also faced longstanding opposition. In response to the large volume of public comments expressing disapproval of the project, the EPA compiled a report with answers to those comments.
“There needs to be more transparency about why these experiments are being done,” Harvard Medical School bioethicist Natalie Kofler told LA Times. “How are we weighing the risks and benefits?”
“This is alarming,” Angel Garcia, a resident of Tulare County, the site of the first release in California, said.
“Residents have not been consulted and they have not consented to being part of this,” Garcia said, according to the outlet.
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