A proposal to release genetically-engineered mosquitos into Key Haven, Florida in an effort to reduce mosquito populations and limit the spread of emerging viruses like Chickungunya and Dengue has met with considerable resistance from the public. The mosquitos are a product of for-profit biotechnology company Oxitec, which has already released 70 million of these modified mosquitos into other communities arround the globe for the same purpose. The Oxitec mosquitoes contain a gene called OX513A that makes their offspring inviable. When these Oxitec mosquitos are released into the normal mosquito population, they compete with normal mosquitos to breed with females, “occupying” the female population with offspring that will not survive and thereby reducing the total amount of productive mosquito breeding and limiting the growth of the mosquito population.
Many residents of Key Haven, a peninsula town of 444 homes, are wary of these genetically-modified insects and the Mosquito Control District has received over 1,600 emails from residents voicing their opposition, in addition to a petition against the mosquito release with over 149,000 signatures. Although the moquitos are engineered to be a self-limiting population, these residents still feel the choice to release these insects would be dangerously irrevocable and unnecessary. Currently, the community uses alternative mosquito control strategies such as the distribution of inseciticdes by planes flying overhead. By contrast, the mutant mosquitos offer a more targeted approach with fewer negative consequences—as well as many benefits—to the human population of Key Haven.
However, the self-limiting nature of these bugs means they do not represent a permanent vector control solution. When the mutant mosquitos die off, the normal mosquito population could quickly recover its former population size, leaving the Key Haven community in the same place it began. In order to maintain a reduced moquito population continued release of the Oxitec mosquitoes would be necessary. The Oxitec company therefore stands to make a considerable profit if the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District moves forward with this strategy.
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