Why Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitos May Soon Be Released in California, Florida

by Quentin Blount
Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/AFP via Getty Images

California and Florida may soon be releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitos to help control an invasive species of mosquito.

We know that you Outsiders love spending time in the great outdoors. That’s exactly why you need to know that two million genetically altered mosquitos will soon see release in California and Florida. It’s part of a new program from British biotech company Oxitec. Their goal is to help fend off an invasive mosquito that has the potential to carry diseases like Zika, yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya.

Oxitec’s new pilot program received the green light from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this week. The company’s CEO, Grey Frandsen, says they are ready to get to work.

“Given the growing health threat this mosquito poses across the U.S., we’re working to make this technology available and accessible,” Frandsen said. “These pilot programs, wherein we can demonstrate the technology’s effectiveness in different climate settings, will play an important role in doing so. We look forward to getting to work this year.”

The species of mosquito that they’re working to get under control is the invasive Aedes aegypti. The species appeared in California in 2020 for the first time in 75 years. Most people know them for being especially aggressive when it comes to biting humans. Not only that, but they are also very adaptable. So much so, in fact, that they can even adapt to urban areas and big cities. That makes the chances of them spreading disease even greater.

Is This the First Time Genetically Modified Mosquitos Have Been Used?

You may be wondering what exactly are genetically modified mosquitos going to do to help the situation. Well, Oxitec is planning on releasing altered males that do not bite into the two states. There, they will mate with females of the invasive species. The company’s website says that their offspring will never reach maturity. The website also stresses that the modified mosquitos will not hurt other beneficial insects such as bees or butterflies.

You may recall that it was just last year when the EPA approved another experimental project to control invasive mosquitos in the Florida Keys. Oxitec’s program is an extension of that one. It just has the addition of also implementing it in California as well as The Sunshine State.

But if you remember, the original project did come with some pushback from critics. They were concerned about the use of genetically modified mosquitos and the potential negative consequences that could follow.

Dana Perls is a program manager at Friends of the Earth, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group. She told USA Today at the time that even the slightest disruption to the ecosystem could have a lasting impact.

“When you disrupt an ecological system whether it’s a small disruption or a big disruption, you’re going to have an impact.”