Genetically modified mosquitoes successfully passed their first test in the US

With all female bugs dying before adulthood.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Back in August of 2020, authorities in Florida received the green light from the Environment Protection Agency for a pilot project that saw 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes released in the Florida Keys between 2021 and 2022. The project was looking to minimize the spraying of insecticides by essentially controlling the spread of Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito that transports deadly diseases, such as Zika, chikungunya, and dengue.

Named OX5034, the genetically modified mosquito had been developed so that females die before passing the larval stage. Female mosquitoes are the ones responsible for biting humans and transferring diseases, whereas males feed only on plant nectar so do not spread any diseases. Needless to say many objected to the project stating that it had risks that hadn't yet been fully studied. 

The first results are promising

Now, Biotech has released the first results from its trials and they are proving to be quite promising, according to an article published by Nature on Monday. Researchers studied the outcomes of their experiment by placing boxes of Oxitec mosquito eggs on private properties in the Keys and surrounding them with traps.

The researchers collected more than 22,000 mosquito eggs from this approach. They then transported them back to their laboratory to watch them hatch in order to identify whether their plans were indeed working. The researchers claimed that all females that inherited the lethal gene died before reaching adulthood indicating that the experiment's main goal was a success. 

An approach that is well-received

So far, the approach to receiving the experiment's results has been well received. “I like the way they’re going about it,” Thomas Scott, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis, told Nature. “They’re doing it in a systematic, thoughtful way. So I’m encouraged, but they have a lot of work ahead of them,” he says.

Biotech also has ambitious plans to release mosquitoes at a second study site in Visalia, California, where it is developing a research facility. Will this second study be met with as much opposition as the first or will these promising results make it easier for researchers to go forward with their work? 

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