After a decade of overcoming regulatory barriers, the biotech company Oxitec has released its genetically modified mosquitoes on the Florida Keys. According to Live Science, the trial, which is the first release of experimental gene-hacked species on a large scale in the United States, is now underway. Oxitec and the local mosquito control board will continue to track the mosquito population.
They will see whether the experimental bugs will help kill disease-spreading mosquitoes in the wild while also ensuring that the experimental bugs do not proliferate out of control. If it succeeds — and that’s a huge “if” — the experiment might lead to a modern, highly targeted method of killing local pests without using chemicals.
As previously noted by Futurism, the experiment was controversial among local citizens, environmental advocates, and science experts, with many claiming that they were coerced or deceived into participating in an experiment that they couldn’t opt-out of without packing up and leaving town.
When those males mate with wild females, they pass on the gene to reduce the wild population while also diluting the engineered gene. The current version of the study is intended to not only assess the self-limiting mechanism but also to see whether replacing wild mosquitos with gene-hacked versions decreases the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases.