Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying– they are big time killers spreading terrible diseases. Remember the Zika outbreak last year? That was spread primarily by the mosquito species—Aedes aegypti. And this species is pretty nasty it also transmits dengue fever and chikungunya. And to top it all off– it’s really hard to control their populations– they thrive in residential areas and can breed in super small amounts of water. So any still water sitting in your yard can act as a breeding ground for these bugs. Traditional control methods include using pesticides, larvicides and reducing breeding grounds– which often means eliminating any small puddles of water that have accumulated like on buckets left outdoors, play structures, and other items found around a yard.
In an effort to control these mosquito populations and reduce the spread of mosquito-borne diseases some scientists at the British company OXITEC have turned to genetic engineering. They have engineered the mosquitoes to over-produce a certain protein which in turn causes the mosquitoes to die. Here’s how it works. The modified male mosquitoes are released into the wild since the males don’t bite. They then mate with the wild female mosquitoes and pass their killer genetics onto their offspring. Once their offspring hatch they die young, before they are able to reproduce and bite you. As their offspring die off, the population decreases. And as for the genetically modified male that was released into the wild, he dies in a couple of days after being released.
These modified mosquitoes have been released in Brazil, Cayman Islands, and Panama– and they have indeed ended up reducing the mosquito populations there. And now OXITEC and the mosquito control board in the Florida Keys wants to do a trial release in Florida to see if it’ll work there. But there’s a vocal group of residents there that are opposed to this idea. Check out the video to explore the science and policy around the release of these mosquitoes in Florida.