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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fix Dengue Problem in Florida

Florida Travel
by Carlo Alcos Jul 5, 2011
A British company is developing a breed of mosquitoes that will help wipe out large populations of Dengue fever-causing mosquitoes.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY go wrong? I just listened to this story at NPR about Florida authorities looking to a British company called Oxitec to help with a Dengue fever outbreak. The disease has been absent in the Florida Keys for the past several decades, but has returned over the past two summers.

It’s a potentially fatal disease and it’s hard to criticize efforts to help those threatened by it. But seriously, engineered bugs? Does this really seem like a good idea?

Mosquito eggs are injected with “customized genetic material” that makes the mosquito reliant on a dietary supplement only available in the lab. These mosquitoes do not survive in the wild. The plan is to raise a male breed of these mosquitoes and release them to mate with the females. Because males don’t bite, there are no risks posed to humans.

And since the offspring is designed to die, there is supposedly no risk of passing the genes along. Everyone wins right? As pointed out by Dr. Helen Wallace, Executive Director of GeneWatch, a big concern is if any unintended problems result, like an altered ecosystem or an increase in other disease-carrying animals. She is also very concerned that the technology is moving too fast.

To me it’s another case of our ongoing pursuit to dominate nature, rather than learn to live in accordance with it.

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