First Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Released In Florida

By Bill Galluccio

April 30, 2021

Wildlife officials in Florida are releasing genetically modified species into the wild as they try to control the population of the blood-sucking insect. It is the first time that genetically modified mosquitos have been released in the United States. The program is targeting the Aedes aegypti species of mosquitos, which can carry deadly diseases, including the Zika virus and yellow fever.

In February, officials identified the invasive species of mosquitos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The first phase of the plan involves placing 12,000 genetically modified eggs in six areas throughout the Florida Keys. When the mosquitoes hatch, which takes about one week, they will find females to breed with, allowing them to pass on a genetic modification that ensures the female's offspring will not live long enough to reproduce.

They hope that within a few months, the mosquito population will begin to decline because the females, which are responsible for biting humans and spreading disease, will not reach adulthood.

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the release of 750 million mosquitoes in 2021 and 2022.

"At the end of the day, our hope is to be able to control this mosquito more efficiently and keep our population below any sort of disease transmission threshold," Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito District, said. "Our toolbox for Aedes aegypti control is shrinking, unfortunately, and that's making us think outside of the box."

A small but vocal group of locals have been protesting the plan, which has been in the works for over a decade. They have the help of environmental groups that are concerned about the potential impact the genetically modified mosquitos will have on the ecosystem.

"When you disrupt an ecological system whether it's a small disruption or a big disruption, you're going to have an impact," Dana Perls, program manager at Friends of the Earth, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group, told USA Today.

"History has taught us time and time again that we need serious precaution with new genetic engineering experiments and technologies," Perls continued. "Once you release this genetic material into the wild, you can't recall it."

Photo: Getty Images

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