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A company is planning to release a load of genetically modified mosquitoes loose in California in an attempt to lower the population of an invasive species, but not everyone is happy with the idea.
UK-based company Oxitec has created a new genetically modified mosquito in a lab that could later be turned free in California as part of an experiment that has recently received approval from the US federal government.
The plan is that the newly created mosquitoes could help save half the population of the world from the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is responsible for spreading diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya fever and yellow fever to humans.
The idea is that these mosquitoes will be released into the wild, then breed with the invasive species before the female offspring die, drastically reducing the overall population.
The company claims that they managed to get rid of 95 percent of the invasive population when they conducted a similar experiment in an area of Brazil.
That doesn’t mean that the residents of California are mad about the idea, regardless of how ‘friendly’ these mosquitoes are claimed to be.
Even some of the other scientists have their reservations about the whole thing.
First off, it’s not always the best thing to do to release a load of experimental creatures into the wild, and claim that there are risks that maybe haven’t been considered.
Secondly, there are concerns from residents and barriers to approval for the scheme to be overcome yet.
They argue that the impact on other wildlife or even the ability to control the existent mosquito population could be affected.
Natalie Kofler, a bioethicist at Harvard Medical School, told the LA Times: "There needs to be more transparency about why these experiments are being done. How are we weighing the risks and benefits?”
After all, it’s not as if California is a hotbed for mosquito-borne diseases.
In fact, they’ve never had a case where an Aedes aegypti mosquito was found to have transmitted disease.
Oxitec’s head of regulatory affairs, Nathan Rose, says that the area has been chosen because the population of those mosquitoes was discovered around 10 years ago and increased rapidly.
Whilst the project has been given approval by the US Environmental Protection Agency, it still has a few hurdles to overcome before it can go ahead.
There is some opposition from residents, too.
One said: “This is alarming. Residents have not been consulted and they have not consented to being part of this.”
There’s no doubt that getting rid of mosquito-borne diseases would be massive, but there’s certainly a fair bit of opposition to this scheme.
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