Genetically modified mosquitoes to be released in the Florida Keys to combat dengue, zika, and yellow fever.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, genetically modified flies pose no risk to human health or the environment, including protected species.

FLORIDA, United States (EFE) – The Florida Keys will be the scene of the first test in the United States with genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, an alternative to insecticides and larvicides to end the transmission of diseases such as dengue, zika and yellow fever that has always been surrounded by controversy. “The more weapons we have against the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, the better,” Stanley Zuba, a pediatrician and vice president of the Keys Mosquito Control Board, told Efe. He has just authorized the biotechnology company Oxitec to test its mosquitoes “OX5034” after nearly ten years of back and forth.

Previously, Florida state authorities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the green light to the pilot test with the commercially named “Oxitec’s friendly mosquito, OX5034”. According to a study by EPA technicians, Oxitec’s mosquito “poses no risk to human health or the environment, including protected species.”

So far, all we know from the test is that in 2021, somewhere in the Keys that has not yet been determined, Oxitec will place boxes with millions of genetically modified male Aedes aegypti eggs millions of mosquitoes will emerge and mix with the local population of their species.

Due to a gene created in the laboratory, from the crossing of the “OX5034” with the “natural” females, which are the ones that transmit the diseases, no more insects will emerge.

“Once released, it will be impossible to contain the number of these genetically modified mosquitoes. They will be in literally every place where the wind blows,” says a campaign launched on Change.org by the Keys Environmental Coalition collect signatures against the release of the laboratory Aedes aegypti.

However, the Keys Mosquito Control Board, a string of islands between the U.S. mainland and Cuba where an outbreak of dengue fever has broken out this year in a way not seen in 10 years, approved the test Tuesday by four votes to one.

DENGUE AND COVID-19, A BAD COCKTAIL
The Florida Department of Health counted 47 cases of locally transmitted dengue fever in the Keys, one of the state’s most visited tourist destinations, as of Aug. 19.

Besides, one case of locally transmitted dengue fever was confirmed in Miami-Dade, and 32 cases were confirmed throughout Florida from people infected overseas.

The Florida Keys are home to some 46 species of mosquitoes, according to the local insect control agency’s website, which for now uses larvicides and insecticides as weapons.

The treasurer of the Keys Mosquito Control Board, Brandon Pinder, the only one who voted against the Oxitec project, stressed to Efe that the main reason for his “no” is another disease, COVID-19, whose incidence is increasing on these islands.
Pinder does not say he is against transgenic mosquitoes and acknowledges that “the idea is good,” but points out that we must be prudent because the “ecosystem of the Keys is weak.”

The community was able to speak by teleconference on Tuesday before the board members voted, and there were opinions to suit all tastes.

Supporters of the GM mosquito test argued that the transmission of potentially lethal diseases must be stopped and said science is the best weapon.

Opponents said there is no knowledge of the consequences for the environment and humans of these laboratory-created insects. Others simply said they do not want to be the guinea pigs of an experiment.

Pediatrician Stanley Zuba, who voted for the motion, said they are facing “a small opposition” that is using “misinformation” and “conspiracy theories” to “scare people” out of the Keys.

Oxitec, founded in 2002 in the United Kingdom, welcomed the test’s approval and noted that a test in the city of Indajatuba in Brazil showed that OX5034 mosquitoes managed to reduce the presence of disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti by 95%.

The Yucatan Times
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