FDA Reviewing Genetically Modified Mosquitoes for Potential Release in Key West

glowingmosquito.jpg
Oxitec's genetically modified mosquito larvae glow so researchers can track them
The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing a proposal from a British biotechnology firm asking to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes.

If the FDA green lights the "new animal drug" application, quaint and quirky Key West will become the hub of controversial experiment.

On the surface, the whole scenario sounds like something from the opening chapter of a Michael Crichton novel. Oxitec, the British biotech firm, has genetically modified a single species of mosquitoes so that they self destruct soon after hatching. The idea is that by releasing only genetically modified male mosquitoes -- only females bite humans -- the disease-spreading pests will breed with the natural females and spawn future generations that die before reaching adulthood.



The sole reason mosquito control folks in the Keys want to go forward with the experiment is because they think it can eliminate the threat of dengue fever -- a nasty disease, but one that hasn't reared its face in the Keys since November 2010.

As detailed in this week's cover story, local Conchs and environmental groups around the world aren't buying it. They accuse Oxitec of carrying out its three previous experiments without properly informing the public of potential risks posed by its mutant mosquitoes. They're concerned that eradicating one species of mosquitoes could have unintended consequences on the food chain and ecosystem. They've even sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking him to block such an experiment.

It's understandable that people are freaked out by the potential of having their blood sucked by a genetically modified creature concocted in European laboratories. There is, however, potential that these mosquitoes could help fight diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries and continue to kill thousands in lesser developed countries.

The scientific community doesn't doubt that Oxitec's approach will drive down mosquito populations. What's unclear is whether doing so will actually improve public health.

Should Florida be one of the testing grounds to help answer that question? That's for the FDA to decide.

Read our full story on the potential experiment and Oxitec's history here.

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13 comments
Jessesgirl
Jessesgirl

"It's understandable that people are freaked out by the potential of having their blood sucked by a genetically modified creature concocted in European laboratories." Yet, earlier in the article, you say only males - who do not bite humans - will be released.  Make up your minds.

If you don;t know, look it up!
If you don;t know, look it up!

Perhaps some people need to review historical information. This is precisely the strategy that wiped out the screwfly in the States. Of course, since some other countries to the south refused to get with the program, that insect scourge may someday return to plague us again.  Equally of course, people back then didn't blither and bleat "MUTANTS!" or "GENETICALLY ENGINEERED!!!" without checking exactly what was going on.  While we are certainly right to be concerned about "genetic engineering" done just to do it, as a fad, it is incredibly foolish to throw the baby out with the bathwater by creating protests and petitions that merely reveal the depth of public ignorance.  Whether preventing fertile matings or causing larval death immediately post hatch, this is a PROVEN method to control or ultimately wipe out dangerous insect populations.  Comparing it to corn modifed by "Big M" to require new seed bought yearly is comparing apples and horses.

Guest
Guest

There are several cheap, effective and environmentally friendly alternatives to GM mosquitoes. Native plants that repel Aedes aegypti like American Beautyberry can be used as screening to reduce the House Index. A study using repellent plants in Tanzania reduced all mosquitoes found in houses by 50%, the cost was $1.50 per house which includes maintenance and labor costs. This can be used with attractants and lethal ovitraps using used coffee grounds or other cheap environmentally friendly larvicides, as well as fan traps on the lethal ovitraps to not only reduce the larvae survival but also catch the adult females. This push pull method may not only reduce the larvae from surviving, but unlike GM mosquitoes will also target the adult females and reduce the chance of Aedes aegypti entering the home, and at a fraction of the cost.

Other methods include the use of some strains of the fungi Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae which some peer reviewed studies suggest can also reduce the survival of Aedes aegypti offspring, but unlike GM mosquitoes can also cause mortality in the adult females, thus reducing both the population and the chance of being bit.

Yet another example is use of the bacteria Wolbachia, which some peer reviewed studies suggest may reduce the adult Aedes aegypti lifespan by 50% and unlike GM mosquitoes may actually provide resistance against dengue serotype 2 and chikungunya. There are several other alternatives as well.

What Mosquito Control has failed to mention is that releasing millions of GM mosquitoes including thousands of females could potentially increase the risk of transmitting mosquito-borne diseases. Releasing millions of male mosquitoes may also increase the risk of chikungunya which a peer reviewed study suggested can be spread when Aedes aegypti mate. With each male mating as many as 21 times in their lifetime that is a huge risk not worth taking unless the adult female lifespan is significantly reduced or there is resistance against chikungunya, which doesn't appear to be the case for GM mosquitoes. There have been over 100 cases of chikungunya reported in the U.S. between 2006 and 2009 including cases in Florida so this a very real risk. Florida entomologist Walter J. Tabachnick, estimated that if an outbreak that occurred in Italy had occurred in Key West it would have caused 1,200 cases of chikungunya and 4,000 cases if it occurred during tourist season. The Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae alternatives both reduce the lifespan of the adult female and therefore reduce the chance of chikungunya spreading, they can also be used without releasing more males but instead infecting the already existing males and/or females. The Wolbachia alternative may reduce the lifespan of adult female Aedes aegypti and may even provide resistance against chikungunya, so even if more males were released there would be a significantly reduced risk of spreading chikungunya compared to GM mosquitoes.

There are numerous unknowns such as whether or not the synthetic protein based on sequences from E.coli and the Herpes simplex virus that the GM mosquitoes express could be transmitted to humans during a bite or affect animals ingesting them. As well as a partially independent lab reporting 15% of the GM mosquito offspring surviving in the presence of chicken found in cat food and a member of the mosquito control district admitting that Aedes aegypti have been found breeding in pet dishes, making such an event likely if GM mosquitoes are released. Along with Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory's Phil Lounibos stating there is no supporting background evidence that GM mosquitoes would solve a dengue problem. All of this and more makes a GM mosquito release seem like an expensive, pointless and potentially risky proposal.

William
William

What could go wrong? I highly suggest you look up Mao Zedong's sparrow massacre. One must understand that all of nature is connected in order to truly realize the consequences of this action.

Again: look up Mao Zedong's sparrow massacre.

Paul N. Leonard
Paul N. Leonard

What is the threat to life level in Florida as compared to the lesser developed countries the article talks about? The risk/gain is higher in Florida, it would seem to me, than in these other areas. Would it not make sense, then, to try it in an area that has more to gain, (or less to lose)?

Triscallian
Triscallian

If they die soon after hatching.... How do they mature to breed with the females?

Guest
Guest

 So what's going to happen to the host of other insects, birds and bats who eat mosquitoes by the millions? And then to the animals higher up on the food chain who eat these lower tier predators? Yeah, this is a fantastic idea...

Nunya Biz
Nunya Biz

Species go extinct all the time in the grand scheme of things, and one I can think of that humans caused was the dodo bird, and at least that was an innocent animal, mosquitos spread disease and millions have died because of them.  This article makes it sound like they wont even die though, just have a lifespan like a fly, perhaps?  This would be an economical solution too, as the people who die from the diseases mosquitos spread cant afford the vaccines against them, so if the mosquitos just die before reaching adulthood, then they wouldnt even get bit in the first place.  Id like to know what they think could be the consequences are, but from what I can see, the benefits would outweigh them.

Bone Lee Tadpole
Bone Lee Tadpole

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG...!?!?!?!?!?!?!?     Let those lil bastards free in your country first, Mate...!!!!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

I disagree with this proposal and I would like to veto against it .this is my veto request Thank you .

DJ Frustration
DJ Frustration

Please, please come to my house in Pinecrest!  My daughter gets eaten alive from March through November of every year.

Dsawd
Dsawd

This is soooo wrong ! 

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