Almost like the plot of a dystopian horror movie a UK biotech company, called Oxitec, would like to release genetically engineered mosquitos in the Florida Keys. I mean tell me that you can’t envision the movie how this movie (if it were one) would unfold. In an act of man’s hubris that he is the master of nature and can thus use his mastery to make life better for everyone through engineering disease out of mosquitos. The mosquitos are released and appear to succeed in what they are engineered for until something goes horribly wrong (queue dramatic music). Then there would be some sort of mutation which causes some sort of catastrophe — I’m thinking those bitten by the mutated mosquitos turn into zombies — the Army is called in, there would be a bunch of zombie horror carnage, and the attempt to eliminate the mosquitos, that appears to succeed, as the movie closes the camera zooms in on mosquito larvae growing is some standing water, thus setting up the potential for sequels. It basically writes itself, doesn’t it? Just invite me to the premier, that’s all I ask.
Well, despite the many internet themed zombie apocalypse stuff that made its rounds after a Miami Florida man gnawing the face off of another man, as well as similar gruesome events, I feel pretty safe in saying that I don’t think these mosquitos will cause people to turn into zombies, nor will any other bad thing happen should someone get bitten by one of these genetically engineered mosquitos. According to the company the mosquitos that would be released are all males, which do not bite, and have essentially been neutered, so they cannot reproduce. These now flying eunuchs are meant to bring a dramatic reduction in the mosquito population (because they can’t mate), particularly in a species that is the carrier of dengue fever, which there have cases of in the Keys. The company also claims that they have successfully released these mutant mosquitos in the Cayman Islands three years ago, but despite all of those claims residents of the Keys want none of it.
About 90,000 people have signed a petition saying that they do not want these mosquitos released and asking the FDA to not permit Oxitec’s mosquito release. There are concerns over what kind of impact releasing these modified insects into the ecosystem will have, and I must say that science doesn’t exactly have a good very good track record with genetically enhanced insects — the killer bee for example. So, the residents of the Keys simply want more scientific proof that these mosquitos are in fact safe, and I think that is a fair request. To be equally fair, Oxitec has stated that the decision to release or not release is completely up to the local governments, so they are not out there pushing for this — at least not overtly.