Locals are not happy about the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida, with one calling it "terrorism."

The bugs, of every possible variety, are disgusting. On that, most can passionately agree. However, in the Florida Keys there seems to be frustration among some residents over the implementation of a genetically modified mosquito program to eradicate some insect-borne diseases.

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In recent days, Florida Keys County Mosquito Control and Oxitec Ltd have announced plans to participate in the pilot project, marking the beginning of an EPA-approved effort to evaluate what Oxitec has described as a "safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly solution" to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito species.

Non-biting male mosquitoes emerge from the boxes and mate with local biting females. The resulting females will not be able to survive, which is the goal of the project to control the Aedes aegypti population. And although this species makes up only four percent of the mosquito population in the Florida Keys region, it has been found to be responsible for "virtually all mosquito-borne diseases." Diseases transmitted by this species include dengue fever, Zika and yellow fever.

"An important part of the FKMCD's mission is to protect Florida Keys residents from the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito," said Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, in a press release earlier this month. "As we see resistance developing to some of our current control methods, we need new tools to control this mosquito." And given the unique ecosystem we live in, these tools need to be safe, environmentally friendly and targeted." That's why we partnered with Oxitec on this project. With full approval from the U.S. EPA and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an independent advisory board, we are pleased to announce that this project will be underway shortly."

From exit sites in six areas - two on Cudjoe Key, one on Ramrod Key and three on Vaca Key - fewer than 12,000 mosquitoes will exit each week for approximately 12 weeks.

Dan Robitsky's recent article in Futurism contained criticism from some residents, including Virginia Donaldson of Islamorada, who said she had unknowingly signed up after two uniformed men accosted her at her home. The men, according to Donaldson, told her they worked for "mosquito control" and asked her to participate in the new pest control project.

The article also included comments from a town hall meeting in March. Megan Hull, another Islamorada resident, was quoted as saying she thinks the project is "criminal" and that residents are being "bullied" into doing it.

"I think it's criminal that we are being subjected to this terrorism by our own Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board," Hull said, according to the report. Another resident expressed frustration with their questions about the project, simply generating additional questions, noting that they initially agreed with the idea.

Oxitec, available for comment, said a press conference was scheduled for Thursday and said most individuals and businesses supported the project. Oxitec also pointed to the results of a similar project in Brazil, which they said showed that the Oxitec mosquito had up to 96% suppression of the wild aegypti population compared to the control site.

Earlier this month, according to Axios, it was announced that Oxitec had raised $6.8 million in venture capital through the Wellcome Trust.

 


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