On the 19th November, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District gave the green light to a controversial plan to test genetically engineered male mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes – developed by UK biotechnology firm Oxitec – carry a gene that makes their offspring die early. By letting the GM mosquitoes mate with native female mosquitoes in the wild, the idea is to reduce the population of mosquitoes carrying dangerous diseases such as Zika and dengue.
The Florida trial in Key West is set to only last a few months, terminating when the last of the modified mosquitoes die off.
Although similar initiatives also led by Oxitec have been trialled and proven successful, residents involved in the Florida trial area have opposed the idea.
65% of Key Haven residents, the part of Key West where the trial will occur, are critical of the trial due to concerns that it will harm Key Haven’s environment and residents.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved the plan in August, saying that it would have “no significant impact” on the environment in the long-term, however, Key West residents are arguing against this in light of unknown future consequences on their local environment. An online petition by Key West residents has cautiously noted that “there are more questions than answers and we need more testing to be done.”
It is yet to be seen whether the Oxitec team have taken note of this necessity for further testing, and whether the opposition among Key Haven residents will result in finding a new location for the trial.