COVID-19, Murder Hornets and Mutant Mosquitoes? The Environmental Protection Agency has just released a statement announcing its approval of releasing genetically-modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys and parts of Texas to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses.
As the world gets more and more bizarre, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has decided now was a good time to tell us they’re okay with releasing genetically-modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys.
The premise is that the mosquitoes, modified by Oxitec, will ‘help’ prevent mosquito-borne diseases like Zika. During 2016-12017, fears of local Zika transmission were rampant, particularly in states like Florida and Texas.
Still, even the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that there is no current local transmission of Zika in the continental United States.
So what exactly are the mutant mosquitoes for again? Oh, that’s right. To protect us, or so the EPA would have you to believe.
The EPA granted permission for the mosquitoes to be released into the Florida Keys and in the Houston, Texas area in an attempt to see if they would help limit the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. The British biotech company Oxitec Ltd was granted the experimental use permit to release a genetically engineered version of the mosquito species Aedes aegypti. This species of mosquito is a known vector of Zika, as well as viruses that cause dengue and yellow fevers.
Oxitec has to get state approval before it can test in Florida and Texas, but if they do, they’ll take two years, starting this summer, to test their mutants out. They’ll start in Monroe County, Florida and in 2021, Harris County, Texas. Oxitec says its version of the Aedes aegypti carries a gene that will prevent any female mosquito offspring from surviving. This means only males would survive. As only males are capable of surviving, the population will wane. Theoretically.
According to Jaydee Hanson, a policy director at the Center For Food Safety, that may not happen because most (but not all) of the genetically modified mosquitoes’ offspring would die at the late larval stage. In the comments of the permit approval docket, she said that even a low partial survival rate (maybe 3-4% in lab conditions) would mean that we’d have ‘hybrid’ mosquitoes in the environments. These hybrid mosquitoes may have altered properties, like the ability to transmit disease more or the increased resilience against insecticides meant to destroy them.
And while Oxitec claims their first field trial in Brazil brought up to 96% suppression of their targeted mosquito populations, we have to wonder: when we’re battling mutant viruses already, why bring this onto the plate? Why now? In 2016 Zika cases were over 5400 in the United States.
Do we really need to bring in more mutation to fix problems that seem as if they’ve already been addressed pretty successfully without them?
Sort of brings new meaning to the word ‘protection’ in Environmental Protection Agency, doesn’t It?
The EPA’s decision and the approved permit are available in Regulations.gov in Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2019-0274.
Photo: MIA Studio/Shutterstock