Authorities in Florida have received the green light from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for a pilot project that will see 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes released in the Florida Keys between 2021 and 2022.
Many local residents and environmental advocacy groups are objecting to the project.
The project is looking to minimize the spraying of insecticides to try and keep a tight grip on Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito that transports deadly diseases, such as Zika, chikungunya, and dengue, among others.
Trying to curb the spread of diseases
"This is an exciting development because it represents the ground-breaking work of hundreds of passionate people over more than a decade in multiple countries, all of whom want to protect communities from dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and other vector-borne diseases," Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen said in May after EPA gave the go-ahead to the project.
Oxitec is the U.S.-based and British-owned company behind the project that helped modify the mosquitoes.
Named OX5034, the genetically modified mosquito has been developed so that females die before passing the larval stage. Female mosquitoes are the ones that bite humans, thus transferring diseases, whereas males feed only on plant nectar so do not spread any diseases.
EPA's permit obliges Oxitec to warn state officials 72 hours ahead of releasing the first batch of mosquitoes into the Florida Keys, and to carry out tests on the mosquitoes over 10 weeks. The tests would monitor if any female mosquitoes are being born.
The news has come with some serious backlash, however.
"With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida — the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment," said Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, in a statement.
Furthermore, Dana Perls, the food and technology Program Manager at Friends of the Earth, stated "The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes will needlessly put Floridians, the environment and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic."
"This approval is about maximizing Oxitec's profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases," she continued.
With the mosquitoes due to be released between 2021 and 2022, time will tell how the mosquitoes, and Floridians, fare.
Genetically modified animals and insects typically raise quite a few ethical concerns, check out which other types of modifications that have raised concerns over these species.