GENETICALLY modified mosquitoes have been released for the first time ever in the US.
Biotech firm Oxitec released the insects in Florida with the aim of tackling disease-carrying mosquitoes in the region.
Genetically modified mosquito eggs were placed at six locations in Florida in April and 12,000 newly hatched male mosquitoes should emerge over the next 12 weeks.
The exact locations of the eggs have not been revealed.
If all goes well, 20 million more mosquitoes will be released later this year.
The idea is that the genetically modified mosquitoes will act like ‘sex assassins’ by passing on a lethal gene when they mate with normal mosquitoes in the wild.
All of the Oxitec mosquitoes are male and male mosquitoes do not suck blood.
The males feed on plant juices whereas the females need protein from blood to help develop their eggs.
This means female mosquitoes are the disease spreaders we need to tackle.
It is hoped that the Oxitec engineered male mosquitoes will mate with females and pass on a gene to their female offspring that means they die before reaching maturity.
The male offspring can survive but they can’t pass diseases to humans because they don’t bite them.
This technique can significantly reduce mosquito populations and have a positive knock on effect on the diseases they spread.
Oxitec releases a type of mosquito called Aedes aegypti.
Similar experiments have already been conducted in the Cayman Islands, Panama, Brazil and Malaysia.
Oxitec claims that the mosquito populations fell by 90% in those areas.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can carry diseases like dengue fever, yellow fever and the Zika virus.
This is why it’s important to reduce their populations.
Oxitec’s genetically modified male mosquito method is one way to decrease the number of mosquitoes without using harmful pesticides.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are thought to cause the vast majority of mosquito-borne diseases in humans in Florida.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) board is in charge of reducing mosquito populations and can spend $1million a year trying to do this.
The board has been assessing Oxitec’s approach since 2010 and finally decided it was safe and more efficient than other pest control methods.
The experiment has faced some backlash from Florida Keys residents and the Center for Food Safety and the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition.
The longterm impact of the genetically modified mosquitoes on the environment and ecosystem is currently unclear.
Here’s what you need to know about the tiny pests…
- Only female mosquitoes bite humans, they need the blood to help their eggs develop.
- There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world.
- Mosquito is Spanish for “little fly”.
- The insect can drink up to three times its weight in blood.
- The average mosquito lifespan is less than 2 months long.
- They spend their first 10 days alive in water.
- The tiny creatures can smell human breath.
- They are picky about the smell of your sweat.
- Mosquitoes have been around since the Jurassic period.
- They do not spread HIV because the virus is digested in their stomachs.
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