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Billions Of Genetically Modified Male Mosquitos Set To Be Released

Billions Of Genetically Modified Male Mosquitos Set To Be Released

The mosquitos are set to be released in Florida and California.

Two billion genetically modified male mosquitoes have been approved for release in Florida and California after the plan received the green light from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The insects have been developed by biotechnology company Oxitec, which is based in Oxford UK, in a bid to reduce the transmission of harmful diseases such as dengue, Zika and yellow fever.

Using existing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, an invasive species, Oxitec has genetically modified the males, which do not bite, to be released into the wild to mate with females, which do bite. As it's only the female mosquitos that target humans, the modified insects are not thought to pose a danger to people.

The insects will then produce offspring that are apparently neither male or female, and which will never survive to reach maturity, Oxitec says, as per USA Today. The difference in the modified mosquitoes isn't visible to the naked eye, but in theory their release will lead to a decline in overall population over time.

The project was first piloted in the Florida Keys last year, and in the wake of the scheme the EPA authorised the extension of the project in Florida as well as the expansion into four counties in California. State regulators will still need to approve the plan before it goes ahead.

In a statement about the approval, Grey Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec, said: 'Our team is immensely proud to have received yet another milestone approval from the EPA. This expansion of our U.S. efforts reflects the strong partnerships we’ve developed with a large and diverse range of stakeholders at the local, state and national levels.'

The EPA has approved the release of more than two billion of the genetically-modified bugs across the two states, but Meredith Fensom, head of global public affairs at Oxitec, has said the launch is expected to be much more limited, and is expected to cover only the Florida Keys with expansion into Visalia in Tulare County, California.

Mosquito (Pixabay)
Mosquito (Pixabay)

Fensom has explained that Aedes aegypti only make up a small fraction of the total mosquito population in Florida, but that particular species are responsible for a large number of the cases of human diseases. Florida has been home to dengue outbreaks as recently as 2020.

As well as aiming to reduce disease, the release of the mosquitoes will offer a chance for researchers to study their behaviour in two different environments.

The approval of the program has been met with mixed opinion, with Dana Perls, food and technology program manager with Friends of the Earth, describing it as a 'destructive move that is dangerous for public health', according to USA Today.

One of Perls' major concerns is the lack of existing widespread, peer-reviewed scientific data from pilot release program, though Fensom said peer-reviewed data is expected to be released.

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Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: US News, Health, Life, Science