Billions of genetically engineered mosquitoes are about to be released in the US

A biotech company in the United States will release billions of lab-engineered mosquitos to combat deadly diseases.

The next time you get bitten by a mosquito, spare a thought for our friends in California and Florida, because they’re about to be inundated with the buzzing blood-suckers.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given biotech company Oxitec the green light to let billions of genetically engineered mozzies run wild in the southern US states.

Genetically engineered mosquitos
Credit: Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post, Getty Images

The mosquitos are being released to mix with their al naturale relatives with hope it will limit the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue fever and the Zika virus.

Between 2022 and 2024, 2.4 billion male Aedes aegypti mosquitos will be released in two batches, with the majority of the mozzies (2 billion) heading to California and the remaining 400 million to Florida.

The mosquitos have been genetically modified to express the tTAV-OX5034 protein, which will kill female mosquitos when they mate with the introduced males. If all goes to plan, this will reduce the number of wild mosquitos and limit the spread of several deadly diseases.

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,” said Oxitec CEO, Grey Frandsen.

But naturally, many people have their qualms about the experiment. Jaydee Hanson, the Policy Director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety criticised, “This experiment is unnecessary and even dangerous, as there are no locally acquired cases of dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya or Zika in California.”

But if you or anyone you know lives in one of the two states involved in the experiment, don’t worry too much. The mosquitos passed a risk assessment, and this particular breed of mozzie doesn’t bite humans, so it seems like a win-win for everyone except the wild mosquitos.

But like most things, only time will tell. Get those swatters ready, friends.