Why Scientists Want to Release Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in Florida

Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released into the Florida Keys, according to a report from the Associated Press.  British researchers believe these insects with modified DNA are the key to fighting two painful viral diseases that are a growing threat to the U.S.

Dengue and chikungunya are viral diseases often carried by mosquitoes and spread by insect bites. They cause immense pain to those infected, and have no known vaccines or cures.

According to reports, the species of mosquitoes that commonly carry the viruses have become resistant to four of the six insecticides used to kill them, and researchers are forced to look at alternative population control methods.

Oxitec, a British biotech company, believes it has found a way to control the mosquito population and eliminate the threat of disease. Their scientists have spliced fragments of genes from the herpes simplex virus and E. coli bacteria, coral, and cabbage into a type of synthetic DNA that kills mosquito larvae.

If a male mosquito modified with this DNA enhancement mates with a wild female mosquito, the DNA would cause the larvae to die—thereby reducing the population.

“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” said Michael Doyle, the executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.

Because males don’t bite, researchers insist that it is a safe method to combat mosquito-carried disease, and are seeking approval to release millions of these modified insects in Florida as early as this spring.

Critics, however, are concerned about the human impact of releasing so many insects. Many are worried that Oxitec has not fully tested potential health risks if a mosquito with modified DNA bit a person.

Oxitec insists that the synthetic DNA causes no harm to humans who come in contact with it, and that they have received no reports of negative impact caused by bites in similar experiments conducted in other countries.