Biotech firm Oxitec has released its genetically modified mosquitoes on the Florida Keys. The goal is to suppress the reproduction of wild, disease-causing mosquito populations in the region.
Oxitec announced that it has released genetically modified yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti). A. aegypti can carry diseases such as the Zika virus, as well as dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. The release of modified mosquitoes makes it possible to control the population without the use of pesticides. Biologists expect the population of disease vectors to decline by at least 90% on the Florida Keys.
All modified Oxitec mosquitoes are males. A special gene has been added to their body. Here’s how it works: When modified pests mate with wild female mosquitoes, the deadly gene is passed on to their offspring. Although the gene does not affect the survival of males, it interferes with females from producing the required protein and thus leads to their death before they reach maturity.
Why is the gene only targeting females? The fact is that only they bite people (male mosquitoes feed exclusively on nectar). Therefore, modified mosquitoes and their surviving male offspring cannot transmit diseases to humans.
A. aegypti make up only 4% of the Florida Keys mosquitoes. The problem is that they cause the vast majority of diseases carried by mosquitoes and transmitted to humans in the area, Nature reports. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Council (FKMCD) typically allocates $ 1 million a year to pest control through costly measures. In particular, insecticide spraying is used, Gizmodo reports.