Millions of genetically modified mosquitos will soon swarm Key Largo’s landmarks, including Harry Hariss Park and Everglades National Park.
The Florida Keys are ground zero for the next biochemical experiment. Places like Key Largo and Key West will soon welcome larva boxes that are supposed to release OX5034 mosquitos. These mosquitos are known as modified Aedes aegypti.
Key Largo is the first of iconic keys and also the largest one, so it may absorb much of the modified mosquitos into its ecosystem. The island is home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which makes for the world’s largest artificial coral reef.
Why are mosquitos such a big deal in Key Largo?
Aedes aegypti is a mosquito that brought back Dengue fever, which was originally exterminated in the US and had been for almost a century. This mosquito is also a known carrier of chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro, and yellow fever viruses.
Florida keys are now home to some 13 species of life-threatening mosquitos, which is a troublesome uptrend. Scientists believe that rising global temperatures are responsible for this mosquito-breeding environment in Monroe county in South Florida.
Mosquitos are some of the deadliest animals on the planet. In comparison, Sharks and Wolfs don’t even scratch the surface of the havoc mosquitos can wreak upon humans.
“Nearly 700 million people contract mosquito-borne illnesses each year, causing more than one million deaths,” according to the World Mosquito Program. Sharks kill maybe four or five people annually. And mosquitos seem to be at the top of the food chain when it comes to disrupting human lives.
Residents of Key Largo know this better than most.
The modified Aedes aegypti
Oxford Insect technologies (Oxitec) developed a genetically modified mosquito under the name OX5034, which is soon to start flying down the streets of Key Largo.
Together with The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), Oxitec plans to release up to 144,000 mosquitos in the upcoming weeks. This should bring back the current infestations in control. FKMCD hopes to reduce the prevalence of Aedes Aegypti by up to 50% or more. The male model of OX5034 is genetically engineered to breed offsprings which die shortly after hatching.
Oxitec is a British-based biotech company that produces genetically modified insects and apparently one of the key players in genetically modified pest control. The company has originally tested OX5034 in Brazil, where the results were nothing less than staggering. The country’s most endangered areas are now recording a 95% drop in swarms of human-biting mosquitoes from Oxitec trials.
However, not everyone is convinced about the merits of this experiment. Residents of Key Largo are worried reasonably worried about the outcome and risks they’ve been exposed to.
“My family’s bodies, blood, and private property are being used in this trial without human safety studies or my consent,” said Mara Daly, who’s a resident in Key Largo, Florida.
Citizens of Key Largo feel like they haven’t given consent for this experiment. Other critics point to the lack of sustainable information and benefits of these trials. Others point to the moral dilemma behind such experiments and call for us to let the god do its bidding.
Potential negative impacts of releasing genetically modified mosquitos in Key Largo
- Scientists are concerned that GMO mosquitoes could develop unknown pathogens that may possibly hurt humans.
- Modified mosquitoes are a relatively new way of combating mosquito infestations and have not been tested thoroughly in open nature.
For others, benefits may outweigh the risks of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment
- Less mosquito-borne illnesses, including Zika and Dengue Fever
- Fewer pesticides that are regularly released in Key Largo communities
- Improved tourism as less life-threatening mosquitos fly around Key Largo
Would these benefits outweigh the risks? How do you feel about it?
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