Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes will be released in the state of California. The objective is to combat dangerous diseases, such as yellow fever, chikungunya and dengue.
The insects are part of an experiment approved by the US federal government and developed by the British biotechnology company Oxitec. They are expected to mate with the current mosquito population. Aedes aegyptiwhich also transmits Zika fever and the Mayaro virus.
Thanks to the addition of a synthetic DNA with microscopic needles in the eggs of this nascent “army”, the female offspring of the next litter will die before procreating. In the firm’s opinion, it would be a “precise, environmentally sustainable and non-toxic” operation.
However, there are critical voices on the West Coast, according to Los Angeles Times. “They claim that releasing the experimental creatures into the wild carries risks that have not yet been thoroughly studied, such as possible harm to other species,” the newspaper stated.
In particular, opponents of the idea fear that the local mosquito population will unexpectedly be more difficult to control, especially in populated areas. The experiment will, in fact, take place in the counties of San Bernardino, Fresno, Stanislaus and Tulare, east of Los Angeles.
For example, bioethicist Natalie Kofler of Harvard Medical School calls for “more transparency about why these experiments are being done,” in addition to weighing “the risks and benefits.”
Among other arguments, he stressed that “the possible benefits of the technology are less than they would be in more tropical regions of the world, where outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases often threaten humans.” In addition, he ruled that “never” in California has an Aedes aegypti transmitted the disease.
In this regard, the head of regulatory affairs at Oxitec, Nathan Rose, asserted that in the state on the Pacific coast, the tiny and aggressive mosquitoes “have spread rapidly after being discovered a decade ago.”
In just 13 weeks, the British biotechnology formula reduced the population of the insect in a neighborhood in Brazil by 95%, added the executive, whose firm is currently carrying out an operation on the other side of the territory, in the Florida Keys.