Billions of Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes Will Soon Be Released in California

A leading biotech company is preparing to release billions of genetically-modified mosquitoes into Florida and California. But don’t worry, the scientists say. These won’t bite.

Oxitec is employing cutting edge technology aimed at reducing the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and the diseases they spread. These pests, sometimes referred to as “ankle biters,” have swarmed California in recent years, posing public health risks and impacting residents’ quality of life. The bugs can transmit dengue, Zika, and chikungunya to humans.

What’s important to know is that only females bite. The two billion mosquitoes to be released are all males, and they carry a self-limiting gene that prevents viability of their female offspring. Once they mate with the females, only male larvae will survive. Those males will also carry the self-limiting gene to perpetuate the cycle.

Oxitec just received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for pilot projects in Florida and California following successful pilots in Florida and South America. The mosquitoes will be released over 29,400 acres in the California counties of Stanislaus, Fresno, Tulare, and San Bernardino.

“Our team is immensely proud to have received yet another milestone approval from the EPA,” said Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen. “This expansion of our U.S. efforts reflects the strong partnerships we’ve developed with a large and diverse range of stakeholders at the local, state and national levels. We’re especially thankful to our collaborators and to the communities who have so warmly welcomed us in both Florida and California. Given the growing health threat this mosquito poses across the U.S., we’re working to make this technology available and accessible. These pilot programs, wherein we can demonstrate the technology’s effectiveness in different climate settings, will play an important role in doing so. We look forward to getting to work this year.”

The plan is not without criticism. Friends of the Earth opposes the programs, claiming the company has concealed important data from the public. And a quick Twitter search reveals conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and government population control already making the rounds.

The EPA says the technology is safe.

“Like all pesticides, Oxitec's genetically engineered mosquitoes are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA),” the agency stated in its news release. “Data submitted by Oxitec demonstrate that OX5034 mosquitoes meet FIFRA standards of not causing unreasonable adverse effects to humans or the environment.”