What’s wrong with releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida
1 billion genetically modified mosquitoes are to be released in Florida
I am the kind of person who is always bitten by mosquitoes and according to science I am cursed. Veritasium, the famous science channel, did an entire video clip on why mosquitoes bite some people more than others and apparently it is a thing. Some people are more attractive to mosquitoes because of genetics. Whether I am with friends and family I am the first person to get bitten by mosquitoes. So the fact that more mosquitoes have been released and are still being released in open air in the United States is somehow bothering me. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for science but if I lived in South Florida I would find this kind of news troublesome. Many Floridians, science loving or not, are heavily disturbed by this news. The problem is people whose lives are directly impacted by such decisions have the smallest voice in how these decisions are made. The question narrowed down to fairness . Is this decision fair on people who are going to be affected or infected?
Residents and local critics have pushed back on the project for many years. The project was considered highly controversial for many reasons. First was the ethical dilemma of local people not being included in the decision making process which has raised some concerns from bioethicists. One of the most difficult problems involves protecting the welfare of public who will be impacted by scientific trials but will not be enrolled in the study. For which reason it is only legal that field trials should only take place when there is a significant health problem in that area from which the benefits of such an experiment could outweigh the risks. But are mosquitoes really a significant health problem in Florida?
One of the worst diseases that mosquitoes spread is dengue. But according to an article titled “Dengue fever on the rise in United States” by AAP News only 5,387 dengue cases were reported in a period between Jan 1st 2010 and Dec 31st 2017. The article reports that 93 percent of the cases were travel associated with local transmissions being only 7 percent. 40 percent of dengue patients were hospitalized with 97 percent being travelers who caught the disease outside of the United States. These numbers are not enough to conclude that dengue is a public health concern in the United States.
According to World Health Organization, Zika virus, another mosquito borne disease, was a public health concern in many parts of the world. There is a good reason for this. It can be transmitted sexually and can also be transmitted from mother to child causing serious birth defects. Babies with Zika virus have been born with congenital Zika syndrome, which causes developmental issues with their brain and vision. Many Zika infected children were born with microcephaly. Although the horror of such a disease was alarming, it has been contained. The World Health Organization has announced an end to the Zika epidemic that spread from Brazil to other parts of America. In 2016, there were 5,168 cases in America and by 2019 it reduced to 28 and by 2021 there has been 0 cases so far. So Zika, although dangerous is no longer a public health concern in America. Chikungunya, another horrific mosquito borne disease is also not a threat here. A total of 116 cases were reported in USA and all of the chikungunya patients were travelers returning home. There are 0 cases of local transmissions so far. As far as yellow fever is concerned, our beloved Dr. Anthony Fauci has actually mentioned in CNBC that is is “ highly unlikely ” that there will ever be an outbreak of yellow fever in the United States but travel related cases can occur. So although most of us are not disease experts or bioethicists, we can all take a good look at the situation and safely conclude that the mosquitoes being released in open air in the United States due to public health concerns is unethical and is deserving of all the black lash it is receiving. Now let’s see if the common good outweighs the unfairness.
UK based biotech firm Oxitec has already launched controversial field tests of its mosquitoes in Florida after receiving years of push back from residents and after facing countless regulatory complications. But this isn’t the first time Oxitec has experimented on US soil. The firm has released genetically engineered diamondback moth in New York and pink bollworm in Arizona all for the sake of population control of insects. Diamondback moth and pink bollworm are immune to pesticides and have been a huge nuisance in the world of farming. Did Oxitec effectively reduce their population? The problem is, the studies are still vague on the results. The pink bollworm has already been reduced by genetically modified cotton that was not developed by Oxitec but the pink bollworms which have actually been modified by Oxitec have results that are yet to come. There is little evidence that Oxitec has reduced the population of the diamondback moths although scientists are guaranteeing promising results. So with promises of vague future successes of past experiments it is very obvious why the mosquito releasing project in Florida is such a controversial topic. There are many third world countries where this experiment may have been welcomed by its residents based on the fact that mosquito borne diseases are of epidemic proportions so it would have no ethical concerns. Why is Florida a target of Oxitec in spite of the regulatory complications and ethical dilemmas? What results can be obtained from people where most of the mosquito related diseases are travel associated? How would scientists know the impact of such experiments the before and after results? These are questions that I have tried researching on and had no luck in finding satisfactory answers. If you know the answers or have figured out why please comment.
It is of no doubt that scientists, biologists and genetic engineers are aware of what they are doing. But when it comes to public health there should be thorough explanations on why a certain region has been selected for experimental trials. The internet, the common man’s research tool, is extremely hazy and vague on the results of such experiments conducted by Oxitec. Oxitec has already field tested with GM mosquitoes in Brazil, Malaysia, Panama and the Cayman Islands.
According to an article, written by the Scientist the experiment in Brazil has gone terribly wrong. The engineered mosquitoes have bred with the non engineered mosquitoes to produce hybrid insects. It has been two years since the GM mosquitoes have been released in Brazil and according to local pest control there have been no good consequences. According to a professor of ecology and evolution in Yale University, Jefferey Powell, the experiment has gone wrong. It did not provide the intended results. Oxitec has responded that they are still working on many things to Gizmodo and are expecting positive results. I am curious why Gizmodo is the press for a biotech company announcements and why the company is also self publishing them instead of having official press releases with major newspapers. I am also curious why regular non scientific people cannot research and find clues on past experiments of Oxitec and why Florida keys with population of only 23,342 has been selected for a field test. I am not a scientist, but I love science and I am curious. This is not a debate but a discussion because every news articles about this is very vague.
I hope all our questions are answered in the coming future.