TALLAHASSEE, Florida - To reduce the spread of diseases, such as dengue, yellow fever and the Zika virus, genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in the Florida Keys.
As only the female Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads deadly diseases among humans, the mosquitoes introduced in Florida will work to prevent the birth of female mosquitoes.
British biotechnology firm Oxitec has spent over ten years seeking permission to begin the pilot program.
Genetically modified male mosquitoes will pass on a gene that kills female mosquitoes before they mature. Officials said the male offspring will continue mating and passing on the altered gene.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved an experimental use permit for Oxitecon on May 1.
Local residents and environmental groups have expressed concerns about the long-term effects of the new technology.
A half-dozen boxes containing the OX5034 mosquitoes created by Oxitec have been deployed in the Florida Keys, an archipelago located on the southern tip of the state.
Company officials note that similar projects have had over a 90 percent success rate in Brazil, Panama, the Cayman Islands and Malaysia.
Initially, 12,000 mosquitoes will be released. Later, tens of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes will spread across the region.
The genetic modification of the mosquitoes included their emitting a fluorescent glow, so they can be easily studied.
"That's how we monitor for the project before, during and after, to understand the mosquito population," said Fensom, according to Reuters.
Despite local opposition, the project was approved in a 2016 referendum in the Keys.
Despite opposition from environmentalists, veterinary scientist Doug Mader said the science surrounding the program is sound.
"There haven't been any side effects to the environment or people reported. So to say that we can't use GMOs is like saying: 'Hey, let's not vaccinate for COVID,'" said Mader, as quoted by Reuters.