Following the approval of a plan to further test these modified insects by the Environmental Protection Agency, hundreds of millions of genetically altered mosquitoes could soon be released in Florida and California to help ward off their natural, disease-causing counterparts.
As developed by a biotechnology company, Oxitec, these genetically altered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are released into the wild where they can mate with females that bite.
A male or female offspring produced is never able to reach maturity, the company claims according to a USA Today report.
The EPA on Monday approved the expansion of the mosquito project from Florida to California, pending approval from the states’ regulators.
Last year, millions of mosquitoes were released in Florida as a pilot project.
Currently, the EPA approval only covers one Florida county and four in California and the release of more than 2 billion genetically modified male mosquitoes across two states, but Oxitec is planning to launch a much smaller number of mosquitoes.
By reducing the transmission of diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, Zika, orange fever, and chikungunya, Oxitec hopes to prevent the spread of disease.
Aedes aegypti, an invasive species, comprise only a tiny fraction of Florida’s total mosquito population, Fensom said.
However, some environmental advocacy groups have pushed back against the release of genetically modified mosquitoes due to fears about their potential effects on the environment.
“This is a destructive move that is dangerous for public health,” said Dana Perls, food and technology expert.
As part of her concerns with the expansion of the Florida project, Perls pointed to the absence of peer-reviewed scientific data from the past year.
Fensom said peer-reviewed data should be released in the near future, but Perls explained she is concerned about the risks without a more rigorous and public review.
Perls was also worried about a lack of verifiable transmission of diseases like dengue, chikungunya, zika, or yellow fever from Aedes aegypti in California:
“There’s no immediate problem and there are a lot of unknowns,” she announced.
In a state, however, Fensom noted that the company produces mosquitoes that are environmentally friendly.
Over time, she said, the mosquito population dies out and mosquitoes stop circulating in the environment, unlike pesticides that can remain in the environment for decades.
However, before approving more widespread testing of such insects, a new framework for regulating living, genetically altered organisms is necessary.
“Once you release these mosquitoes into the environment, you cannot recall them,” she continued.
“This could create problems that we don’t have already.”