Updated 04:05 AM EDT, Sun, Sep 20, 2020

Florida Keys Could Get Millions of GMO Mosquitoes! But Why?

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If the approval pushes through, British researchers may end up releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys as a way to combat two serious viral diseases, MSN reported.

Florida Keys is a coral cay archipelago located off the coast of Florida in the south. However, researchers are now eyeing two extremely painful viral diseases in the area and are studying the need to release GMO mosquitoes if it could help the fight against the viruses.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District executive director Michael Doyle explained, "This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease." He stated that they were waiting for the approval of the Food and Drug Administration before they went ahead with the experiment.

Specifically, the viruses that they are looking to contain are chikungunya and dengue, which are growing threats in the United States.

Despite the researchers' stand on GMOs and its potential to help people, more seem to be against the idea of being bitten by modified mosquitoes, according to Sun Sentinel.

Phil Lounibos from the Florida Medical Entomoly Laboratory studies mosquito control himself and said, "I think the science is fine, they definitely can kill mosquitoes, but the GMO issue still sticks as something of a thorny issue for the general public."

So far, more than 130,000 people have signed a Change petition against the experiment and even potential boosters are claiming that more research is needed. Officials need to show proof that the benefits outweigh the risks of breeding and releasing GMO insects.

Scientists, researchers and mosquito controllers, however, fear that action needs to be done soon, as they are running out of options to battle the viruses.

Globalization and climate change are some factors that have been helping spread the disease and people could be in trouble as there are no vaccines or cures for both viruses yet. The effects of insecticides that are being sprayed in the Keys are also starting to wane, as the female insects spreading the diseases have started evolving and are already impervious to four of the six insecticides designed to kill them, according to Charlotte Observer.

This was where British biotech firm Oxitec got the idea to start breeding mosquitos to combat the virus. By breeding them and only releasing the modified males, the males can mate with the females which carry the virus and tend to bite for blood. Their offspring will end up dying thanks to the synthetic DNA added to the males, thus reducing the mosquito population.

Theresa Eisenman, the spokeswoman for FDA, did say that they had no plans to do field tests without having "thoroughly reviewed all the necessary information," so it remains to be seen if Florida Keys will see those GMO mosquitoes or not.

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