A biotechnology company called Oxitec has produced genetically modified mosquitoes named GE mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are being released in the U.S. for a real-world experiment.
Oxitec is using Aedes aegypti (A. aegypti) mosquitoes for this experiment. This species is known to carry diseases like yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika, West Nile, and Mayaro, a dengue-like disease.
Oxitec genetically engineered the males of this species to carry a “genetic kill switch.” When they mate with wild female mosquitoes, their offspring inherit the lethal gene, and they cannot survive or reproduce in the wild. Oxitec is marketing these insects as “Oxitec Friendly” mosquitoes in the U.S.
Receiving an important grant
In April 2020, Oxitec was granted an initial EUP by the EPA, permitting them to release their genetically engineered mosquitoes on 6,240 acres of Monroe County, Florida and 360 acres of Harris County, Texas.
Despite opposition from some residents and environmental groups, over a seven-month period from April 2020 to April 2021, Oxitec released around 5 million A. aegypti mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. In March 2022, the EPA extended Oxitec’s EUP for two years, allowing them to release additional GE mosquitoes in Florida and for the first time in four counties in California.
The state of California has approved the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in four counties – Stanislaus, Fresno, Tulare, and San Bernardino – that will cover over 29,000 acres of land till April 30, 2024.
It is important to note the fact that the California project is currently on hold, and no mosquito releases are currently planned.
The purpose of the release is to gather data on the effectiveness of these mosquitoes in different climatic conditions. It is worth noting that Harris County in Texas is no longer an approved release site for these mosquitoes, according to the original article.
An official rep for Oxitec reached out to us, and they explained the following: “No Oxitec mosquitoes were ever released in Texas. Oxitec got the EUP but decided to focus on the Florida Keys. It did not reapply for the EUP to cover Harris County.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) extended Oxitec’s experimental use permit (EUP), allowing for the release of up to 2.45 billion genetically engineered mosquitoes. Interestingly, the extension was granted even before Oxitec had publicly released the results of its 2021 field trial release in F.
We suggest that you check out more details about this in the original article.
The official rep for the firm who reached out to us also wanted to make another thing clear: “The Gates foundation has funded no Aedes aegypti projects and no projects on US soil. Gates funding for mosquito-borne diseases is focussed on malaria,” they stated in an e-mail that has been recently sent to us.
Note: Special thanks to Joshua Van Raalte for making clarifications for our article.