Lonely Planet Writer

Florida trial proposed for GM mosquito which wipes out its own offspring

Imagine a holiday without the fear of being bitten by mosquitoes!

The Generically Engineered male mosquito has a kill
The Genetically Engineered male mosquito has a ‘kill switch’ which leads to its young dying before reaching maturity Image by jentavery / CC BY 2.0

A start-up UK company has genetically-modified ‘sterile’ mosquitoes which could have the effect of dramatically reducing their general population. It is now seeking clearance from authorities in the Florida Keys to release them into the wild, with a promise of significantly reducing the flying and biting mosquito numbers in the area.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the biotech company, Oxitec, genetically engineer these aedes aegypti mosquitoes which still allows them to reproduce. However their offspring die young, leading to a much lower population and a decreased threat of disease spreading through their bites.

The US Food and Drug Administration has provisionally approved the move, happy that the release of the GM mosquitoes won’t impact on the health of either the local environment or residents. It will be another month before they receive a final decision from the authority.

The Chief Executive of Oxitec, Haydn Parry, said the company wants to see how this proposed trial would help to protect people from aedes aegypti. Oxitec work on the male gives it a “kill switch” which sees the young die before they reach full maturity. Although the male neither bites nor spreads diseases, when they mate with females in the wild, they produce the the new type of offspring which dies out quickly.

Previous trials in such places as Brazil, used this technique and reduced the aedes aegypti population by 90%. This compares very favourably with normal killing methods which only have a 30-35% success rate. Although locals in the Florida test site, which has less than 500 homes, have protested over the freeing of laboratory modified mosquitoes into their area.