It’s possible that genetically engineered mosquitoes could soon be whining on both sides of the United States. According to Oxitec, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has approved a two-year extension to test its genetically modified mosquitoes as living pest controls. The extension will allow the company to continue a pilot program that began in 2021 in the Florida Keys and expand it to up to four counties in California.
The state governments of Florida and California will now decide whether or not to give authorization to the project.
Male mosquitoes, namely the OX5034 Aedes aegypti genetically altered by the biotech firm Oxitec, contain daughter-killing genes passed along from one generation of female mosquitoes to the next. The sons of these men should be the only ones to survive if they mate with native females outside of a lab. Those who inherit the sabotage gene will grow up and mate with normal females, so dooming their daughters and their children.
The wild Aegypti aegypti species, an invasive species in North America, can transmit illnesses such as dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and others (SN: 7/29/16). California was the first state to notice the invader in 2013, and by February 2022, it had discovered it in 22 counties throughout the state. The EPA approval, which was obtained on March 7, would now enable the testing of genetically modified mosquitoes in Stanislaus, Fresno, Tulare, and San Bernadino counties if that is what is wanted.
In Florida, the permission only applies to one county, Monroe, which spans down to the Florida Keys. It took more than a decade of intense discussion before mosquitoes were released in the area in 2021 (SN: 5/14/21). Despite the acceptance of the earlier tests, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services must vote on the new proposals a second time before they are implemented. “We are not certain that will happen this time around,” says Chad Huff of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, referring to the last time the organization voted at its next board meeting after the EPA revealed its decision.
According to the EPA’s guidelines, almost 2.5 billion of these genetically modified mosquitoes might be released before the authorization expires on April 30, 2024, in both areas if they are authorized and followed by the letter. Fortunately, whether genetically modified or not, male mosquitoes do not bite.