Q&A – Is Releasing Modified Mosquitoes In Florida Dangerous?

Today’s entry: I heard your story about the Mosquitoes. I have known about this for a short time and I agree that this is dangerous. Can you tell me where you found the information about them in Brazil? I am trying to deal with shall I say stupid. Your help will be appreciated.

Bottom Line: Last week, overshadowed by almost everything else in the news cycle, was a decision agreed by the Florida Department of Agriculture to release 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes, created by the British firm Oxitec, into the Florida Keys. It’s a story I’ve followed for over three years as an initial test took place on Stock Island but it was quickly swept under the rug after inconclusive results. Back then, the extensive tests conducted by Oxitec in the Cayman Islands and Brazil seemed to be promising. Initial findings were positive that the modified mosquitoes, which are only male and designed to breed out populations seemed to be working. Initial findings, around the time the Stock Island test, took place in 2017, showed a 90% effective rate for reducing populations. The added bonus was that even the released mosquitoes didn’t bite because only females are the bloodsuckers. But what looked initially effective later took an ugly turn. Last September a series of studies on populations in the Caymans but especially Brazil, showed a huge backfire with the program.

In what was coined the Jurassic Park effect, the modified mosquitoes found a way to mate with other species of mosquitoes. This was previously unknown and created a new breed of “super mosquitoes”. While the mosquitoes aren’t a bigger threat to humans compared to natural mosquito populations, they’re much harder to get rid of, and as a result, populations have been spiking. The new breed is hardier and healthier than any mosquito documented in Brazil previously. This has made even traditional mosquito control methods less effective as the mosquitoes are more resilient. Citing the lead scientist, Yale’s Jeffrey Powell, the important thing is something unanticipated happened. When people develop transgenic lines or anything to release, almost all of their information comes from laboratory studies. Things don’t always work out the way you expect.

When I saw the effort to bring these mosquitoes to Florida was still underway last fall, I raised the alarm citing this study. But still, it appears it’s been mostly ignored. Oxitec has been working on this program for a decade, it’s clear what their interest is. The problem is when governments don’t do their due diligence. If you looked at data from three years ago, you’d probably think it’s a good risk/reward experiment. If you look at the most recent data, you would certainly not consider doing this. As I mentioned recently, we have a horrible record with trying to effectively manipulate nature in Florida. From Lake O’ to the Everglades and our springs. It’s never worked out. We have 40 mosquito species active in Florida. The conditions are ripe for a Brazilian repeat if this happens here. It’s my hope the Florida Department of Agriculture will be informed and stop before the mosquito floodgates are literally opened.

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