Oxitec is a biotechnology, startup born in 2002 that is serious about getting people talking about it. The British company used genetically modified mosquitoes for the first time in the USA. One way to fight the increase in mosquitos in Florida and limit the transmission of diseases like yellow fever, dengue fever, and the Zika virus.
Thousands of genetically modified mosquito eggs were used late last week. The experiment fits into a test approved by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. A premiere in the USA.
A soft solution?
The search for an alternative to insecticides is essential for ecological reasons, to protect biodiversity, but also for efficiency. In Florida, authorities have detected increasing numbers of female Aedes aegypti, a genus of mosquito that makes up only 4% of the local mosquito population but is the subject of the majority of disease transmission.
The task of the start-up Oxitec, which specializes in the development of genetically modified insects that act as “living insecticides”, was to use many male Aedes aegypti with a deadly gene to count the number of women (who are responsible for bites in humans ) to reduce.
For this purpose, the males carry a “self-limiting” gene that attacks and kills the females of Aedes aegypti during fertilization. “The challenges for mosquitoes that spread disease are increasing. This makes this pilot an important step in introducing Oxitec’s safe and self-limiting technology,” said Gray Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec, in a press release.
The first phase of the test will take place over twelve weeks, during which 12,000 eggs will hatch and the mosquitoes will set in different regions of the Florida Keys. Since the announcement of the project, as CNN points out, a number of residents have resisted these “mutated mosquitoes”. 230,000 people signed an online petition on Change.org.
Approved, the test should continue on a very large scale, while it is estimated that 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes will be used by 2022. Of these, 20 million will be released this year if the first test is successful, and is most favorable to mosquitoes during the period.