Cartoon Courtesy of Nariman Tabatabaee

By Jeet Rai

Recently, British researchers affiliated with biotechechnology firm Oxitec based in Oxford, England, have been trying to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to release millions of genetically modified mosquitos in Key West, Florida this spring. The modified mosquitos will be used against two viral diseases, dengue, which is known as “break-bone fever,” and chikungunya, which is so painful that it causes contortions.

The anticipated release of these modified mosquitos has spurred controversy and outrage, as it should. The lives of humans should not be treated as experients. With all of the stresses already prevalent in the world, taking risks that could harm the health of humans is completely unnecessary.

Whereas Oxitec aims to reduce the prevalence of the diseases (which have yet to grace the U.S. – cases of both are fairly uncommon), Florida residents refuse to allow Oxitec to release mosquitos that may or may not ultimately benefit them.

“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure a disease,” said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, to Jennifer Kay of the Associated Press.

Dengue and chikunguya are growing threats in the U.S., but some people are more concerned with the thought of being bitten by a genetically modified organism. In fact, more than 130,000 signed a petition against the experiment.

Insecticides are sprayed year-round in the Keys’ neighborhoods. But, Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquitos whose biting females spread these diseases, have evolved to resist four of the six insecticides used to kill them.

Enter Oxitec, which patented a method of breeding Aedes aegypti with fragments of genes. This commonly used synthetic DNA is thought to pose no significant risks to other animals, but it kills mosquito larvae.

Oxitec’s lab workers manually remove modified females, aiming to release only males, which don’t bite for blood like females do. The modified males then mate with wild females whose offspring die, thus reducing the population.

Although Oxitec said only non-biting males would be released, the fear that Oxitec scientists remove modified females manually raises fear and paranoia that modified females may escape their sights and bite the human population.

Despite Oxitec’s assurance that even if humans were somehow bitten, no genetically modified DNA would enter their bloodstream, Floridians are still not convinced.

Florida residents are concerned with the adverse effects that the GMO’s may have. Many express similar concerns and demand why they are being experimented on and being used as guinea pigs, just to see what happens.

Oxitec needs to do more to show that the synthetic DNA causes no harm when transferred into humans by its mosquitos, if they wish to see their project succeed.

“I’m glad they aren’t doing this in California. There would be a lot more controversy, I would think. I know that I for one would not be okay with them releasing a whole bunch of genetically modified mosquitos,” junior Victoria Gost said.

Even though there would be no reason to expect why Oxitec would want to sabotage humanity in the various countries that it has used its modified mosquitos in, it is difficult to allow an organization to bombard the people of Florida who don’t feel comfortable with such widespread release of engineered insects.

Author: Plaid Press

Granada Hills Charter High School newspaper

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