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Health News Florida

Many Key West Residents Oppose Genetically Modified Mosquito Plan

asian_tiger_mosquito_01.jpg
Courtesy of University of California

It's not clear when or if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might sign off on a plan by Key West Mosquito Control and a British Firm, Oxitec to release genetically modified male mosquitoes into the city to fight off mosquitoes that carry deadly diseases like dengue fever.

The plan would release altered male mosquitoes, which don't bite, to mate with female mosquitoes, which do.  But Oxitec says the female offspring of such a union would be flightless and unable to feed or breed and then die off.

Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry told the UK newspaper The Guardian:

 "The decision to go ahead is entirely a local Florida decision - it's not up to us," he said.

But at least 100,000 people have signed an online petition to say, "not in my backyard." Key West has about 25,000 residents. Mila de Mier is behind the drive to stop the release.  She told the Journal Nature there are too many questions about what this could mean for the locals and the environment.

“The more questions we ask, the more confused we are,” says de Mier, a Key West business woman, who started the petition in April. “I started thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, what if these mosquitoes bite my boys or my dogs? What will they do to the ecosystem?’.”

Federal Health officials reported more than two dozen cases of dengue fever among residents and visitors to The Keys between 2009 and 2010. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the region has all the ingredients necessary for the disease to crop up: it's a popular tourist spot, with many opportunities for visitors to come from places where the disease is present, travelers may carry the virus  and be bitten by mosquitoes which carry it and pass it on to a population with no natural resistance to the disease. 

Dr. Randy Gaugler, The Director of the Center for Vector Biology at Rutgers explained the challenge of controlling the particular carrier mosquito, Aedes albopictus,  The Asian Tiger Mosquito, in a release distributed by Oxitec.

Read more here:

See how NPR's Science Friday broke down this issue recently here.

And you can watch a report from Britian's Channel 4 on the issue here.

And you can get further explanation from San Francisco Bay area biotech consultant and freelance writer, Paul Diehl.

Also, check out Florida Matters' discussion about the fierce return of mosquitoes.