Florida Approves Release of Billions of GMO Mosquitoes

Overlooking potential public health risks, lingering scientific questions, and deficient public data, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) approved the extension of Oxitec’s two-year field trial on Wednesday, which includes releasing several billion more genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes into the Florida Keys — one of Florida’s most ecologically sensitive areas.

FDACS’ approval comes on the heels of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granting the British biotechnology company Oxitec a two-year extension for its Experimental Use Permit for the release of a GE version of the species Aedes aegypti across Monroe County, Florida.

“FDACS should have required Oxitec to cease claiming as ‘confidential business information’ their data on the human health and environmental effects of the release of the mosquitoes,” said Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director at Center for Food Safety. “In Spain, when Oxitec withheld the data, the Spanish government told Oxitec to make public the health and environmental safety effects of their genetically engineered insect. Florida should have done the same. Moreover, FDACS should not have allowed a second major release without making public the data from the first trial and having it reviewed by unbiased scientists in the field.”

FDACS’ approval came despite unresolved public health and environmental concerns raised by scientists, public health experts and environmental groups about potential impacts of the release. The data from Florida’s 2021 field trial release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys still has not been made public or reviewed by independent scientists.

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Mosquitoes With Synthetic DNA Scheduled For California Release

In the mosquito breeding rooms of British biotech company Oxitec, scientists line up fresh eggs, each the size of a grain of salt. Using microscopic needles, the white-coated researchers inject each egg with a dab of a proprietary synthetic DNA.

For four days, Oxitec technicians care for the eggs, watching for those that hatch into wriggling brown larvae. Those “injection survivors,” as the company calls them, face a battery of tests to ensure their genetic modification is successful.

Soon, millions of these engineered mosquitoes could be set loose in California in an experiment recently approved by the federal government.

Oxitec, a private company, says its genetically modified bugs could help save half the world’s population from the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can spread diseases such as yellow fever, chikungunya and dengue to humans. Female offspring produced by these modified insects will die, according to Oxitec’s plan, causing the population to collapse.

“Precise. Environmentally sustainable. Non-toxic,” the company says on its website of its product trademarked as the “Friendly” mosquito.

Scientists independent from the company and critical of the proposal say not so fast. They say unleashing the experimental creatures into nature has risks that haven’t yet been fully studied, including possible harm to other species or unexpectedly making the local mosquito population harder to control.

Even scientists who see the potential of genetic engineering are uneasy about releasing the transgenic insects into neighborhoods because of how hard such trials are to control.

“There needs to be more transparency about why these experiments are being done,” said Natalie Kofler, a bioethicist at Harvard Medical Schoolwho has followed the company’s work. “How are we weighing the risks and benefits?”

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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Set to Be Released in California and Florida

Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes are set to be released in California and Florida in an effort to reduce the number of real, disease-carrying invasive mosquitoes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday approved use of the genetically engineered insects in pilot projects in specific districts across both states.

The mosquitoes were made by UK-based biotechnology firm Oxitec, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in an effort to combat insect-borne diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus.

According to Oxitec, its “sustainable and targeted biological pest control technology does not harm beneficial insects like bees and butterflies and is proven to control the disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has invaded communities in Florida, California, and other U.S. states.”

Since it was first detected in California in 2013, the Aedes aegypti mosquito has spread rapidly to more than 20 counties throughout the state, increasing the risk of mosquito-borne diseases being transmitted to humans.

Oxitec’s new technology consists of genetically-modified male mosquitoes, which do not bite, that will be released into the wild where they are expected to mate with females, which do bite.

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Popular weed killer impairs insect immune systems, raising malaria risk

Unexpected new findings from researchers at Johns Hopkins University are indicating the world’s most commonly used herbicide appears to weaken the immune systems of insects. One experiment with mosquitos known to spread malaria suggests the chemical can increase the insect’s susceptibility to parasitic infection, possibly increasing risk of human disease transmission.

Glyphosate is a weed-killer that has been in wide agricultural use since the 1970s. It kills plants by disrupting a crucial metabolic process called the shikimate pathway. The pathway is only present in plants, so for many years glyphosate was thought to be an ideal herbicide – harmless to everything but plants.

Over recent years, however, concerns have been raised over the chemical’s effect on the surrounding environment and humans. Austria and Vietnam were two of the first countries to outright ban the herbicide, while several others are undergoing a staged phase-out of its use over the coming years.

The effects of glyphosate on insects is still a source of much debate. Studies have found the herbicide can disrupt gut bacteria in insects, and this can lead to behavioral or physiological changes. A new study is suggesting glyphosate could impair immunity in insects, and this may lead to damaging consequences for human health.

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Florida releases genetically modified mosquitoes in hopes to reduce spread of disease

Genetically modified mosquitoes have been released for the first time in the United States, taking flight in the Florida Keys in a pilot program intended to reduce the spread of deadly diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and the Zika virus. 

  After an odyssey spanning more than a decade to secure regulatory approval, British-based biotechnology firm Oxitec, along with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD)launched the project in hope of reducing the Aedes aegypti species that spread the diseases. 

  While Oxitec and local authorities have high hopes for the program, local residents and environmental groups worry that not enough is known about the long-term effects of the new technology. 

  Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency granted an experimental use permit (EUP) to Oxitec on May 1. 

  A half-dozen boxes containing the OX5034 mosquito created by Oxitec have been deployed in the Florida Keys, an archipelago stretching 120 miles (195 km) off the southern tip of the state. 

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750 million genetically engineered mosquitoes approved for release in Florida Keys

Approved by the Environment Protection Agency in May, the pilot project is designed to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a viable alternative to spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti. It’s a species of mosquito that carries several deadly diseases, such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.The mosquito, named OX5034, has been altered to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage, well before hatching and growing large enough to bite and spread disease. Only the female mosquito bites for blood, which she needs to mature her eggs. Males feed only on nectar, and are thus not a carrier for disease.The mosquito also won federal approval to be released into Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021, according to Oxitec, the US-owned, British-based company that developed the genetically modified organism (GMO).The Environmental Protection Agency granted Oxitec’s request after years of investigating the impact of the genetically altered mosquito on human and environmental health.

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