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Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to be released in Florida



A UK-based company’s plan to purposefully release hundreds of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes into Florida may sound like a science-fiction story, but it has received local authorities’ blessing to become a reality.

Insect-combatting tech company Oxitec has created a male mosquito modified so that all of its offspring die before hatching. The US-owned company has named it OX5034 and designed it as an alternative to spraying insecticides.

A plan to release more than 750 million OX5034s into the Florida Keys received Environmental Protection Agency approval in May and got an unanimous go-ahead from seven Florida agencies in June, providing Oxitec with the Experimental Use Permit it needed to move forward. The project has been seeking approval for more than a decade, CNN reported.

The modified mosquitoes will be released into Florida over a two-year period starting this summer. Beginning next summer, they will also be released in Harris County, Texas, Oxitec said in a May statement following the EPA’s approval.

Area residents and environmental advocacy groups are horrified.

“With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the state of Florida — the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a ‘Jurassic Park’ experiment,” Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, said in a Wednesday statement released by a group of concerned community members and environmental advocacy organizations denouncing the decision. “What could possibly go wrong? We don’t know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks, now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed.”

The altered insects were conceived after particularly bad outbreaks of mosquito-spread dengue fever in the Keys in 2009 and 2010. Desperate to control the situation, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District reached out to Oxitec for solutions, and the company responded by proposing OX513A, a genetically modified male mosquito.

Many Floridians were not in favor, and a Change.org petition against mutant mosquitoes quickly racked up over 100,000 signatures, with residents referring to the variant vermin as “superbugs” and “robo-Frankenstein” mosquitos, CNN wrote.

In response, Oxitec developed the now-approved OX5034, a 2.0 version of its original OX513A “friendly mosquito.”

“Winning the growing war against disease-spreading mosquitoes will require a new generation of safe, targeted and sustainable tools for governments and communities alike,” Oxitec’s CEO Grey Frandsen said in the May statement. “Our aim is to empower governments and communities of all sizes to effectively and sustainably control these disease-spreading mosquitoes without harmful impact on the environment and without complex, costly operations. The potential for our technology to do so is unmatched, and this EPA approval will allow us to take the first steps toward making it available in the US.”

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