A horror movie may soon come to life near you…
Unstoppable mosquitos of death and destruction: sounds like something out of a horror film, doesn’t it? You may scoff and think that it can’t possibly be real, but the truth is that GMO mosquitos could soon be flying around your backyard.
A biotech company named Oxitech has genetically engineered a breed of mosquitos that produce offspring that will die. The company has instilled a genetic “kill switch”, that is activated when the GMO mosquitos breed with wild female mosquitos. That gene is passed down to the offspring, which will be unable to survive long enough to bite humans. It’s like using the natural mating process of mosquitos to kill off the mosquitos already in existence. Sounds effective, but is it safe?
According to the FDA, it is. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has actually agreed with Biotech’s assessment that these GMO mosquitos have no significant negative impact on the environment. This preliminary report by the FDA is just the first step in bringing the genetically engineered mosquitos to the U.S., but it’s a pretty terrifying first step. Once the FDA approves the use of these mosquitos, it’s only a matter of time until they are actually used.
There could be a silver lining in this potential horror story. When the genetically modified mosquitos were released in the Cayman Islands, they were able to suppress up to 96% of the native mosquitos. The trial was repeated in Brazil, with similar results.
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Right now, the mosquitos are intended to be released in Florida. However, significant interest has been shown in the genetically engineered insects. Already, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $20 million into the creation of these GMO mosquitos, and the World Health Organization has shown support. In fact, the WHO has already encouraged other GMO mosquitos to be released. Male mosquitos have been given the Wolbachia bacteria, which infects the females and prevents their eggs from hatching.
But there is very real concern about the existence of these GMO mosquitos and what they could do to humanity. There is a very real possibility that these genes will be passed via mosquitos to humans. Every time a mosquito drinks human blood, they leave behind a bit of genetic material. If humans contracted this “genetic kill switch” as a result of the mosquitos’ infection, it could lead to serious consequences for humanity.
What’s worse, these GMO mosquitos may not have as high a mortality rate as their creators intended. They are designed to die off in an environment free of tetracycline and antibiotics, which counteract the genetic effects. However, with these antibiotics present in the environment, the mosquitos may not have as high a “die-off” rate as they should. The insects can also develop a resistance to the gene, with a 3.5% survival rate currently.
The fact that the Zika virus has spread around the world is one of the main reasons for the research and development of these GMO mosquitos. With more and more people concerned about the spread of transmittable diseases, it’s no surprise that the world is grasping at straws to find a solution for the mosquito problem. But will the release of GMO mosquitos really solve the problem, or will it just lead to further complications and consequences down the line? The FDA is currently investigating the viability of the solution, and we can only hope that they do thorough research to find out the full impact the release of these GMO mosquitos could have on our world.