Last spring, a private company has released some genetically modified mosquitoes into the open air of the Florida Keys —- string of tropical islands in an effort to limit wild mosquito populations. The company says the experiment was astonishingly successful. Oxitec is a biotech company based in the United Kingdom.

Based on the reports published in Nature, Oxitec previously experimented the genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil, Panama, the Cayman Islands, and Malaysia, but this was the first open-air trial of genetically modified mosquitoes in the United States. Although Oxitec has not yet published the data from their observation and analysis, representatives confidently said, the results were absolutely promising.

 

“We had quite a number of key performance outcomes that we were hoping to hit and we were able to hit all of those in this trial,” Nathan Rose, Oxitec’s head of regulatory affairs, said during the webinar.

To limit the wild mosquito population, Oxitec scientists genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, a type of invasive species that can carry an array of harmful diseases such as yellow fever, dengue fever, and Zika.

Scientists engineered these particular types of mosquitoes to be non-biting and male. Then the scientists injected them with a special gene that is deadly to female mosquitoes and that’s how these genetically engineered mosquitoes eradicate about half of the population of all new mosquitoes. This will help us to reduce the overall population of mosquitoes.

Last year, Scientists placed numerous modified mosquito eggs in some places in the Florida Keys. They hoped that the engineered mosquitoes would mate with wild mosquitoes and the company can measure the efficiency of its genetic technology.

genetically-modified-mosquitoes
Biotechnology firm Oxitec ran the first open-air test of genetically modified mosquitoes in the United States by placing boxes of its eggs in selected spots in the Florida Keys.Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

According to nature, researchers installed some capture devices to study the insects. Surprisingly they found that when the genetically modified mosquitoes grew into adults, their behaviors, characteristics, and fly ranges were exactly similar to the wild ones. Not only that but the modified male mosquitoes are also mated with wild female mosquitoes. As a result, the female mosquitoes laid eggs and scientists brought those eggs into a lab for observation.

They analyzed more than 22,000 eggs and found that only male mosquitoes made it to adulthood. This means it worked! The genetically engineered mosquito experiment worked as they hoped.

“This is pretty much what we expected,” Rose said during the webinar. “This really confirms the self-limiting nature of the genes, they’re not going to persist long-term in the environment.”

Now, Oxitec hopes to do more trials in Florida to analyze the results and effects of the genetic modifications on local mosquitoes. The company is also planning to release some genetically modified mosquitoes at a testing site in California. The Environmental Protection Agency gave motiva

tion for Oxitec to release around 2.4 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the two states.

“We’re looking for new tools to put in our toolbox to help us control this particular mosquito,” said Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. “There is no silver bullet, and we’re just really hopeful that we are finding something that we can integrate with the rest of our control methods.”

 

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