TALLAHASSEE, FL – British biotech firm Oxitec announced this week that it has received the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to release two billion of their genetically modified (GE) male mosquitoes in California and Florida, which have been manipulated and grown to mate and produce infertile offspring with the goal of reducing local mosquito populations and, in turn, the illnesses they can transmit.
Codenamed “species OX5034,” the male mosquitoes designed by Oxitec are derived from a breed known as Aedes aegypti, which is often a carrier of numerous diseases, including Zika, chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever. When these mosquitoes are introduced into a region and mate with female members of their species, Oxitec representatives note that the subsequent offspring they produce will quickly die, resulting in drastic overall impact upon their population.
As for fears that species OX5034 could somehow be harmful to human beings, Oxitec pointed out that only female mosquitoes bite and suck blood from people, so the GE males they will be releasing should pose no threat.
Oxitec originally conducted a test in 2021 after their initial EPA approval in several regions in Florida; the success they experienced encouraged the EPA to grant approval on Wednesday for the Florida program to continue, in addition to also grating approval for the program to be utilized in California as well.
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Between the two states, two billion of the mosquitoes are expected to be released, according to Grey Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec.
“Our team is immensely proud to have received yet another milestone approval from the EPA,” he said. “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.”
Despite the approval of the EPA and examples of successful testing, some officials are expressing concerns over the fact that these two states will soon be home to laboratory-manipulated insects; Jaydee Hanson, policy director with the Center for Food Safety, noted that there could be unforeseen risks.
“This experiment is unnecessary and even dangerous. There are no locally acquired cases of dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya or Zika in California,” Hanson said. “Releasing billions of GE mosquitoes makes it likely that female GE mosquitoes will get out and create hybrid mosquitoes that are more virulent and aggressive.”
Dana Perls, food and technology program manager with Friends of the Earth, said that if issues do arise from the GE mosquitoes, residents in the regions they are released in will have no choice but to live with them.
“Once you release these mosquitoes into the environment, you cannot recall them,” Perls said. “This could, in fact, create problems that we don’t have already.”