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Genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida


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#1 Swar

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 08:14 PM

 

Mllions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys if British researchers win approval to use the bugs against two extremely painful viral diseases.

Never before have insects with modified DNA come so close to being set loose in a residential U.S. neighborhood.

"This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease," said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which is waiting to hear if the Food and Drug Administration will allow the experiment.

Dengue and chikungunya are growing threats in the U.S., but some people are more frightened at the thought of being bitten by a genetically modified organism. More than 130,000 people signed a Change.org petition against the experiment.

Even potential boosters say those responsible must do more to show that benefits outweigh the risks of breeding modified insects that could bite people.Dengue and chikungunya are growing threats in the U.S., but some people are more frightened at the thought of being bitten by a genetically modified organism. More than 130,000 people signed a Change.org petition against the experiment.

"I think the science is fine, they definitely can kill mosquitoes, but the GMO issue still sticks as something of a thorny issue for the general public," said Phil Lounibos, who studies mosquito control at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.

Mosquito controllers say they're running out of options. With climate change and globalization spreading tropical diseases farther from the equator, storm winds, cargo ships and humans carry these viruses to places like Key West, the southernmost U.S. city.

There are no vaccines or cures for dengue, known as "break-bone fever," or chikungunya, so painful it causes contortions. U.S. cases remain rare.Mosquito controllers say they're running out of options. With climate change and globalization spreading tropical diseases farther from the equator, storm winds, cargo ships and humans carry these viruses to places like Key West, the southernmost U.S. city.

Insecticides are sprayed year-round in the Keys' charming and crowded neighborhoods. But Aedes aegypti, whose biting females spread these diseases, have evolved to resist four of the six insecticides used to kill them.

Enter Oxitec, a British biotech firm that patented a method of breeding Aedes aegypti with fragments of genes from the herpes simplex virus and E. coli bacteria as well as coral and cabbage. This synthetic DNA is commonly used in laboratory science and is thought to pose no significant risks to other animals, but it kills mosquito larvae.

Oxitec's lab workers manually remove modified females, aiming to release only males, which don't bite for blood like females do. The modified males then mate with wild females whose offspring die, reducing the population.

Oxitec has built a breeding lab in Marathon and hopes to release its mosquitoes in a Key West neighborhood this spring.

FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman said no field tests will be allowed until the agency has "thoroughly reviewed all the necessary information."

Company spokeswoman Chris Creese said the test will be similar in size to Oxitec's 2012 experiment in the Cayman Islands, where 3.3 million modified mosquitoes were released over six months, suppressing 96 percent of the targeted bugs. Oxitec says a later test in Brazil also was successful, and both countries now want larger-scale projects.

But critics accused Oxitec of failing to obtain informed consent in the Caymans, saying residents weren't told they could be bitten by a few stray females overlooked in the lab.

Instead, Oxitec said only non-biting males would be released, and that even if humans were somehow bitten, no genetically modified DNA would enter their bloodstream.

Neither claim is entirely true, outside observers say.

"I'm on their side, in that consequences are highly unlikely. But to say that there's no genetically modified DNA that might get into a human, that's kind of a gray matter," said Lounibos.

Creese says Oxitec has now released 70 million of its mosquitoes in several countries and received no reports of human impacts caused by bites or from the synthetic DNA, despite regulatory oversight that encourages people to report any problems. "We are confident of the safety of our mosquito, as there's no mechanism for any adverse effect on human health. The proteins are non-toxic and non-allergenic," she said.

Oxitec should still do more to show that the synthetic DNA causes no harm when transferred into humans by its mosquitoes, said Guy Reeves, a molecular geneticist at Germany's Max Planck Institute.

Key West resident Marilyn Smith wasn't persuaded after Oxitec's presentation at a public meeting. She says neither disease has had a major outbreak yet in Florida, so "why are we being used as the experiment, the guinea pigs, just to see what happens?"

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#2 redlion

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 09:07 PM

Most people already come into contact with GMO biotics on a daily basis. At least here in the states, a large percentage of our foodstuffs are GMO.

As far as this project, I believe they've done their due diligence. It's probably safe. All the same, doesn't this increase the risk of a few female GMO mosquitos getting loose and increasing the population of disease resistant mosquitos?

#3 Fikri

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 09:20 PM

ive read about this. they already release a batch of gmo mosquitoes in malaysia.

i welcome any effort to reduce mosquitoes population. in the past few months, 3 of my friends were warded because of dengue. i dont want to be part of the statistics. welp.

#4 Swar

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 09:28 PM

Most people already come into contact with GMO biotics on a daily basis. At least here in the states, a large percentage of our foodstuffs are GMO.

As far as this project, I believe they've done their due diligence. It's probably safe. All the same, doesn't this increase the risk of a few female GMO mosquitos getting loose and increasing the population of disease resistant mosquitos?

 

It says that they manually remove the modified females, and males don't bite for blood like females. The modified males will mate with the wild females, causing their offspring to die, reducing the population.


ive read about this. they already release a batch of gmo mosquitoes in malaysia.

i welcome any effort to reduce mosquitoes population. in the past few months, 3 of my friends were warded because of dengue. i dont want to be part of the statistics. welp.

It's serious business here too (it even says about Brazil in the article). Every year, thousands get infected with dengue, and chikungunya, which is worse, is getting more common here. 



#5 Fikri

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 09:42 PM

i think the best way to tackle this is to simply clean up the environment so that the mosquitoes wont have any breeding sites but who am i kidding. where im at people throw their rubbish willy nilly and 90% of the drains are clogged. we are beyond salvation...

ive never heard of chikungunya. it does sound worse.

#6 Swar

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Posted 27 January 2015 - 09:47 PM

Yeah, that would never work. They try that here every single year, but nothing changes. People never learn until it happens to them :/

 

Actually, chikungunya is not worse than dengue, because the chance of dying is very smaller, but it hurts much more. It's new to Brazil, but countless cases were registered in countries of Africa and Europe.



#7 ortin

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 09:35 PM

GMOs aren't bad in itself, but releasing them into the ecosystem is literally tampering with the ecosystem. We have no idea what the full effects releasing the mosquitos will have, so we should definitely petition to make sure the research behind these mosquitos is absolutely sound.



#8 Jayqwelin

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 05:06 PM

I study biochemistry for my undergrad, and I think it's a good idea. These males carry a lethal mutation that would cause all of its offspring to die (not sure how they raised these mosquitos though). Lethal mutations don't get passed on to the next generation and so this mutant population will be self-limiting. Although I'm not sure what the threat is even if these recombinant mosquitos bite you, for the same reason that you're not going to get cystic fibrosis if you cannabalize somebody with cystic fibrosis.

 

They might have to send out more of these guys on a regular basis to keep the population down, but it's a hell of a better option than spraying insecticides that mosquitos (and other insects) are only going to adapt to. They're also not messing with viruses per se, which is good because, again, you don't want them to adapt. 

 

Unless the ecosystem in the Florida Keys stands upon a delicate balance of mosquito population (perhaps as food for insect-eating birds), I don't see the problem with this.


Edited by Jayqwelin, 11 March 2015 - 05:06 PM.



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