Genetically modified mosquitoes released in US to fight disease-carrying species

Oxitec claims that the technology also removes all requirements for adult-mosquito rearing and releases and eliminates the potential for female releases.
Four per cent of the mosquito population in Keys is of Aedes aegypti but is responsible for all the mosquito-borne diseases transmitted to humans like dengue, Zika, yellow fever.(File photo)
Four per cent of the mosquito population in Keys is of Aedes aegypti but is responsible for all the mosquito-borne diseases transmitted to humans like dengue, Zika, yellow fever.(File photo)
Updated on May 07, 2021 06:09 PM IST
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By | Written by Deepali Sharma | Edited by Poulomi Ghosh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A Bill Gates-funded biotech firm has released genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to combat insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and Zika virus. The biotech firm named Oxitec technology, based in the UK in collaboration with Florida Keys Mosquito Control District announced the placement of release boxes, non-release boxes and netted quality control boxes in six locations-two on Cudjoe Key, one on Ramrod Key and three on Vaca Key.

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Throughout all release locations, around 12,000 mosquitoes are expected to emerge every week for approximately 12 weeks. Untreated comparison sites will be monitored with mosquito traps on Key Colony Beach, Little Torch Key, and Summerland Key, as per a statement.

Here's all you need to know about the project:

Oxitec has bioengineered male Aedes aegypti that do not bite to control the invasive, disease-spreading Aedes aegypti.

The release boxes will slowly release their self-limiting, male mosquitoes to mate with the local female biting mosquitoes. However, the female offsprings from these encounters cannot survive, which will subsequently control the population of disease-carrying Aedes aegypti.

"Our primary mission is to protect residents in the Florida Keys from all mosquitoes including the disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District remains committed to seeking out, environmentally-friendly and targeted tools to protect our residents and to preserve our wildlife," Andrea Leal, executive director of Florida Keys Mosquito Control District said.

Four per cent of the mosquito population in Keys is of Aedes aegypti but is responsible for all the mosquito-borne diseases transmitted to humans like dengue, Zika, yellow fever. It is also capable of transmitting heartworm and other potentially deadly diseases to pets and animals.

Oxitec claims that the technology also removes all requirements for adult-mosquito rearing and releases and eliminates the potential for female releases. The technology, combined with other innovations, is expected to reduce up to 90 per cent of costs associated with traditional insect release programs.

The biotech company has earlier suppressed the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti by up to 95% during a similar project in Brazil's Indaiatuba.

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The company also said that the existing methods of controlling the species, like spraying and fogging using chemical insecticides, have failed as the mosquitoes have evolved and developed resistance to insecticides.

However, some have their doubts regarding the efficiency of the project. Max Moreno, an expert in mosquito-borne diseases at Indiana University who is not involved in the company or the project, told AP it is unclear if the genetically modified mosquitoes will be able to stand against their natural rivals that went through the process of natural selection, which pertains to the survival of the fittest.

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Thursday, January 20, 2022