In an attempt to quell the rise of insect-borne illnesses in Florida, the state is planning on releasing genetically modified mosquitoes.
People often associate mosquito-related diseases with other parts of the world, but the southeastern United States is home to insects that can carry everything from Dengue Fever to the Zika Virus. To make matters worse, according to The Smithsonian Magazine, invasive species of mosquitoes that can carry potential diseases have been found in Florida "for the first time in 75 years."
The goal of the project, a collaboration between the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and UK-based biotechnology company Oxitec, is to "control the invasive and disease-spreading female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the region."
The male mosquitoes developed by Oxitec do not bite, making them preferable to existing insect populations. These bugs will be released "in small areas in a select number of neighborhoods between mile markers 10 and 93 in the Keys," Fox News reported. Oxitec has stated that the company's mosquitoes will pass on a "self-limiting" gene to their wild mates, "ensuring future offspring do not mature into adulthood," thus "reducing the population." Oxitec has performed trials of the technology in Brazil and the Cayman Islands, with near perfect results.
After more than a year of review, the US Environmental Protection Agency has approved an experimental use permit for Oxitec, which allows the business to begin the process and operate until 2022.
Residents of the Florida Keys are divided; many are worried that introducing foreign species will cause a negative impact on the area's fragile environment.
According to Undark Magazine, those opposed to the project want clearer proof that the release is even necessary, further information about the process and disease monitoring, and more public engagement. Oxitec responded to criticism by claiming that the company's methods are too complex for the average person to understand, and that misinformation was leading to fear-mongering.