“We can’t rely on chemistry to spray our way out of this,”
Phil Goodman, District Board Chairman – District 2 Commissioner of The Florida Keys
(CMR) Despite being a failure for the Cayman Islands officials in the Florida Keys have voted to allow the first tests in the United Staes for 750 million free-flying genetically modified mosquitoes to be released. The commissioner's announcement was made last week Tuesday, August 18 after a two-hour virtual public meeting. The 4-1 decision was made after public comments and a petition that gained over 25,000 signatures against the project.
The controversial decision was not without a bit of debating and contention but with Monroe Country experiencing a current surge in dengue fever they decided to approve the initiative for 2021 to undermine the public heal threat that the Aedes aegypti mosquito poses. The 47 reported cases for 2020 represent a high for them in almost a decade.
District board chairman, Phil Goodman admitted that the current use of chemicals has limitations and kills an estimated 30-50% of the disease carriers. Approved by the Environment Protection Agency in May, the pilot project is designed to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a viable alternative to spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti.
The same company that Cayman eventually pulled the contract on, Oxitec will be carrying out the project beginning after January 2021. The methods of setting out boxes of eggs specially bred male yellow fever mosquitoes (OX5034) sound awfully familiar to the methods used in Cayman. The eggs will grow into normal-looking males. Like other male mosquitoes, they drink flower nectar, not blood. Then planners hope that during tests, these Oxitec foreigners will attract female mosquitoes to mate. A bit of saboteur genetics from the males will kill any female offspring resulting from the mating, and over time that should shrink the swarms. Sons that inherit their dad’s no-daughter genes will go on to shrink the next generation even further.
Oxitec claims to have also received approval to launch their mosquitoes in Texas later next year as well. However, Texas government officials shared recently that no such agreement has been granted yet.
The idea of using sterile male mosquitoes is at least 80 years old but was largely inefficient because mosquitoes were too delicate to respond to the radiation techniques used. However, modifying the DNA of mosquitoes has given people new hope in the fight against the pest.
The decision locally to allow the company here was extremely controversial and ended after a citizen's legal challenge was unsuccessful in Grand Court. However, in November 2018 the project was abruptly halted by Minister Dwayne Seymour claiming that it was ineffective. Despite this contention, an article recently published by CNN claims that:
“OX513A had been field-tested in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil, with Oxitec reporting a large success rate with each release.”
After spending millions of dollars, the Cayman Islands Government has never publically released any of Oxitec's research data from its time in Cayman. Oxitec is a US-owned British-based company based in Abingdon England.