Oxitec, based in Oxford UK, is a development company for biological pest control, which has produced the modified version of the flying insects to fight mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue, yellow fever and Zika.
Male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes do not bite humans, but females do, and so the genetic modification causes females to die shortly after birth.
The project has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the first wave will be released this year, although it is not exactly clear when this will happen, as it requires approval of state regulations in Florida and California.
It’s not likely to be a problem in Florida, since the state hosted a trial last year that saw millions of the same type of Oxitec mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.
Billions of genetically engineered male mosquitoes will be released in California and Florida over the next two years, as part of a mission to kill biting females
Not everyone supports the idea, including Friends of the Earth, which describes it as ‘a destructive movement that is dangerous to public health.’
The EPA has released the technology, giving Oxitec a permit for experimental use allowing it to release 2.4 billion modified mosquitoes between 2022 and 2024.
In total, two billion will be released in California, and another 400 million in Florida, where millions have already been dispersed by the mosquito population.
The male insects are genetically modified to express the protein tTAV-OX5034, resulting in the death of all newborn females.
Oxitec, based in Oxford UK, is a biological pest control development company that has produced the modified version of the flying insect to fight mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue, yellow fever and Zika.
The species, Aedes aegypti, is not native to California or Florida, but has begun to become an invasive problem, causing multiple human diseases.
It is known to spread Dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever.
HOW IT WORKS
Only female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes bite and spread disease.
That Oxitec has created males that pass on a gene that kills female offspring before they mature.
Her male offspring continue to mate and pass on the altered gene.
Over time, this reduces the population, slows down the spread of biting females, and reduces the transmission of diseases.
The company describes it as a persistent form of pest control that only affects the target, invasive species.
The idea behind the change is to kill all female offspring before they are adults and able to go out and bite humans, and spread these diseases.
This would also work to reduce the population of the invasive species, and further delay the transmission of diseases, although this is still theoretical.
The modified species have been put through multiple tests and trials, to ensure that the adaptations will not harm ecosystems or humans.
“Once released into the environment, genetically engineered mosquitoes cannot be recalled,” said Dr. Robert Gould, president of San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, speaking through Friends of the Earth.
“Instead of moving forward with an unregulated open-air genetic experiment, we need precautionary measures, transparent data and appropriate risk assessments.”
The Center for Food Safety is also unhappy with the project, with policy director Jaydee Hanson calling it a dangerous and unnecessary experiment, because in California ‘there are no local cases of dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya or Zika’. .
Oxitec says that mosquitoes are safe and provide a sustainable form of pest control that does not kill beneficial insects within an ecosystem – only this one species.
“Given the growing health threat posed by this mosquito in the US, we are working to make this technology available and accessible,” said Oxitec CEO Gray Frandsen.
‘These pilot programs, in which we can see the effectiveness of the technology in different climate settings, will play an important role there.’
The latest EPA approval is actually an extension of the 2020 license, which allowed Oxitec to release millions of modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys last year.
Not everyone supports the idea, including Friends of the Earth, who describe it as ‘a destructive movement that is dangerous to public health’
Oxitec will now have to submit permit applications to state regulators in California and Florida, so the release of the mosquitoes is not final.
Friends of the Earth hopes to appeal to state regulators, to prevent the release of the billions of mosquitoes, claiming that there is no publicly available data to support the idea that they will lead to a reduction in mosquito borne disease.
“Scientists have found genetic material from GE mosquitoes in wild populations at significant levels, which means GE mosquitoes are not sterile. GE mosquitoes can lead to far more health and environmental problems than they would solve,” said Dana Perls, Food and Technology Program Manager by Friends of the Earth.
“EPA needs to do a real review of potential risks and stop ignoring widespread resistance in the communities where releases are going to happen.”
The EPA did not publicly release data from Oxitec field trials in Florida or Brazil and important information about health effects, including allergenicity and toxicity, was edited from the company’s application for a permit, according to Dana Perls.
There was also no requirement for scientific assessments that included endangered species assessments, public health impact analyzes and cage trials prior to release.
Why do mosquitoes bite some people and not others?
About 20 percent of people are more susceptible to mosquito bites.
And while scientists still find a remedy, they have some ideas as to why the insects attack some of us more than others.
Certain blood types are more attractive to taste buds of mosquitoes.
Research has shown that people with Type O blood – the most common blood type – tend to be bitten twice as much as those with Type A. People with Type B blood are bitten somewhere in the middle.
Exercise and metabolism
Sweating while exercising can also make a person more susceptible to a mosquito bite.
Excessive exercise leads to higher body temperatures and a buildup of lactic acid, which sends out nice signals to the insects.
A cold glass of beer makes you sweat and your body releases ethanol, which may be why mosquitoes like to land on beer drinkers.
Bacterial levels on human skin can attract mosquitoes to bite, especially where bacterial clusters such as on the ankles and feet.
Having different types of bacteria on the skin, however, tends to expel the insects.
Mosquitoes use even the faintest scents of human body in searching for potential victims.
It has long been known that female mosquitoes use specific sensors around their mouths to detect carbon dioxide that is exhaled from humans and animals.
But a few years ago, researchers at the University of California Riverside discovered that blood-sucking insects also use the same sensors to detect body odor – particularly the odor of feet.
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