If British scientists have their way, mutant mosquitoes will soon destroy the Florida Keys. Well, not exactly. But it’s a possibility, or at least something to to think about, according to the 90,000 residents who have signed a petition. The genetically-modified mosquitoes are designed to resist the spread of Dengue fever, which is apparently a concern these days in the Keys.
Oxitec, the British company that made the mosquitoes, swears they’re safe and won’t cause any environmental problems. Hadyn Parry, Oxitec’s CEO said, “This is a form of birth control for mosquitoes. It brings the population of the species down very fast indeed.” He noted that only male mosquitoes, who don’t bite and therefore can’t spread Dengue fever, would be released.
But Key West resident and probable Jurassic Park fan Mila de Mier isn’t taking Parry’s word for it. She started a petition on Change.org that’s gathered over 90,000 signatures so far. As the Guardian put it:
The petition calls on the federal regulator the US Food and Drug Administration to withhold permission for Oxitec’s mosquito to be released. De Mier said there are too many questions left hanging, such as whether the gene introduced into the insect could itself mutate, or whether the reduction of the A. aegypti mosquito could have adverse connotations for the local ecosystem.
Of course de Mier and her 90,000 followers are right to be concerned. Mutated mosquitoes seems like the worst idea ever, right?
Wrong, says Parry. In 2009, Oxitec released the mutant mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands to positive results.
The tests in the Cayman islands suggested that the number of A. aegypti mosquitoes could be reduced by about 75% over a year. It had no impact on any other species of mosquito or other insect types, and allowed the amount of chemical pesticide sprayed locally also to be reduced, the company says.
de Mier and her supporters are holding out for more testing – “I don’t want my family being used as laboratory rats for this,” she said, which, fair enough – but ultimately the decision lies with state officials in Florida.