This week, an experiment was approved that will release between 2021 and 2022 more than 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida (United States). With this, researchers hope to reduce the transmission of diseases such as dengue and yellow fever.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has refused to do a thorough analysis of the environmental risks that can be generated with this experiment. In view of this, many residents and environmental groups took a stand against the initiative, and a petition created to prevent the project reached 240 thousand participants.
“With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the state of Florida – covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change – the government used tax money and its resources for a Jurassic Park experiment,” criticized Jaydee Hanson, director of policies at the International Technology Assessment Center.
The genetic changes in the insects were carried out by the biotechnology company Oxitec to decrease the transmission capacity of diseases. With these changes, female puppies die in the larval stage, before hatching and growing enough to sting and spread disease. Males, in turn, feed only on nectar, so they are not potential transmitters.
With this experiment, the researchers want to understand whether these mosquitoes, called OX5034, can be an alternative to spraying insecticides against Aedes aegypti, a species that transmits diseases such as zika, chikungunya and dengue.
Risks to the environment
After carrying out experiments with the OX5034 for some years, Oxitec would have recorded high success rates in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil – which, in one of the urban areas tested, showed a 95% reduction in Aedes aegypti. However, environmental groups believe that it can harm endangered species, such as birds, insects and mammals that feed on mosquitoes.