Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in Florida


Joshua Lasarte, Sports Editor

   The words “Genetically Modified Mosquitoes” sound like something straight out of a science fiction novel. That crazy science fiction novel came to life this May when the government allowed the release of 12,000 mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. Local governments believe that this program will help the environment and the people living in it.

   Five years ago in 2016, British biotechnology company Oxitec, got approved to release the mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. This company has done the same experiment in other countries such as Brazil, Panama, the Cayman islands, and Malaysia with over a 90% success rate. The goal of this project is to reduce the spread of viruses like Zika, yellow fever, and dengue which are all spread by mosquitoes. Sophomore Owen Galvin said, “I think it’s a good thing to control the population and Zika.” In order to reduce the spread of these viruses they want to get rid of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, a brazalian mosquito which bites and spreads diseases. 

   Six boxes full of the genetically modified OX5034 mosquito will be released all through the 120 miles of the Florida keys. All the modified mosquitoes are male and are supposed to mate with the females and pass a gene on to the female offspring that will kill them before they mature. The modified male mosquitoes are engineered to not bite people and will only be there to mate. With these being released, there was a growing concern on how to monitor them and study them in order to see their results.

   In order to tell the difference between the modified mosquitoes and normal mosquitoes, the modified ones will produce a fluorescent glow. After Key West was hit hard by the Dengue fever in 2009 and 2010, the project started to seek approval. The female Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is being targeted, is the mosquito that is responsible for the majority of diseases that are spread by mosquitoes. Florida is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country and has 45 different species of mosquitoes. The modified mosquitoes will be an invasive species which could mean negative side effects. 

   In the previous trials and experiments, no negative side effects have been reported for people or the environment. Junior Anthony Fernandez, who frequents the keys, said, “I think it’s really important that us as humans continue to experiment and find new solutions to our problems and these mosquitoes can benefit us.” Some community members have expressed their concern and disapprove of the entire experiment. There is a fear amongst the locals that the bugs will create a new species of bugs that are even worse. Despite these concerns, they will continue to release 12,000 bugs a week for 12 weeks, totaling 144,000 bugs. 

   Oxitec claims to have a permit from the US Environmental program that will allow them to spread up to 750 million mosquitoes. Locals fear that if that many mosquitoes were released, the mosquito population could skyrocket to a billion. If the program is a success, Oxitec hopes to implement the modified mosquitoes in different parts of the country. Local government and Oxitec have heard and understand the concerns of the community but continue to show the lack of effectiveness that traditional pest control methods have. Not only have traditional methods been ineffective, they are costing an estimated $1 million a year. 

   The female Aedes aegypti mosquito makes up only 4% of the mosquito population and the modified mosquitoes provide a cheaper alternative to extermination that can help save lives. If the trial succeeds, people all over the country will see mosquitoes like this in their cities. With these mosquitoes, there could finally be an answer to a problem that has affected people for centuries.