Why are scientists creating genetically modified mosquitoes?

The Week Staff,  The Week,  2020.

Scientists plan to release altered mosquitoes designed to sabotage the species’ ability to reproduce. Is this safe? Here’s everything you need to know:

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved a plan by a British biotech company called Oxitec to release about 1 billion genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and, next year, Texas. The mosquitoes (code-named OX5034) will only be male — the gender that does not bite humans — and will carry a new gene that will be passed on to their female offspring and cause them to die while they’re still larvae. Repeated releases of such “Trojan horse” mosquitoes should kill, in theory, 90 percent of the local population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is capable of transmitting the Zika and West Nile viruses, as well as dengue and yellow fever. Oxitec claims it’s safe and notes that the species is invasive to south Florida, anyway. But the plan has drawn protest from residents and some in the scientific community. “People here in Florida do not consent to the genetically engineered mosquitoes or to being human experiments,” said Barry Wray of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition. Henry Greely, a Stanford law professor and bioethicist, said the Oxitec plan reflects the almost limitless possibilities — and dangers — of genetic technology. “We can remake the biosphere to be what we want, from woolly mammoths to nonbiting mosquitoes,” he said. “How should we feel about that? Do we want to live in nature, or in Disneyland?”


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