Pretty much since man and mosquito first came into contact with one another, there’s been some animosity between the two. The mosquito is the insect most of us love to hate; the buzzing, backyard-barbecue-ruining buggers that make us have to reach for the anti-itch cream.
Oh, and they’re not just annoying… they can also be deadly. But now there’s a new solution to the problem of disease-spreading mosquitoes. It’s about to be tested, but not everybody is happy about it…
How to gene-hack a mosquito
For years now, British biotech company Oxitec has been trying to figure out a way to limit the impact of certain harmful mosquitoes – the Aedes aegypti species specifically.
These are the guys – or more precisely, gals, because only female mosquitoes bite – that spread diseases like Zika, dengue fever, and malaria.
Oxitec has devised a gene called OX5034 that they implanted in male mosquitoes. When these amorous fellows mate, they will then pass that gene onto the females. This gene will prevent any offspring produced from reaching adulthood, which means fewer biters in the future. A clever solution, right?
There goes the neighborhood…
While effective in theory and lab tests, Oxitec needed a real place to send their special mosquitoes and the Florida Keys seemed to be the perfect spot.
At least, it’s the perfect place for Oxitec. Local residents, as you can imagine, weren’t too thrilled about being guinea pigs for the controversial experiment.
The company says if the experiment is successful, it won’t just eliminate pesky insects – it will also reduce the need for damaging insecticides. Many people aren’t buying it, though.
“This is a dark moment in history,” said Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth. “The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes puts Floridians, the environment, and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic.”
Not the next Jurassic Park
If when hearing about genetically modified animals, your first thoughts immediately went to dinosaurs running rampant and an open-shirted Jeff Goldblum… you’re not alone. While Jurassic Park has been referenced quite a bit regarding this mosquito experiment, it’s important to point out that Oxitec isn’t just some old guy with a crazy idea; it’s a decades-old company that has gotten approval from both the EPA and CDC.
“Winning the growing war against disease-spreading mosquitoes will require a new generation of safe, targeted, and sustainable tools for governments and communities alike,” said Grey Frandsen, Oxitec’s CEO.
“Our aim is to empower governments and communities of all sizes to effectively and sustainably control these disease-spreading mosquitoes without harmful impact on the environment and without complex, costly operations.”
While you’re probably not a fan of mosquitoes, what do you think about this experiment? Would you want these mutant bugs coming to your town? Let us know in the comments below!