Thanks to climate change and globalization, the Keys are also increasingly home to killer tropical diseases such as dengue fever and chikungunya spread by Aedes aegypti, a tiger-striped mosquito that originated in Africa. Just last year, a few dozen people in the Sunshine State were infected with these formerly exotic illness as they made their up the Gulf Coast.
“The threat is greater than I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory, said last year. “Sooner or later, our mosquitoes will pick it up and transmit it to us. That is the imminent threat.”
The solution? A private company has geneticially modified the Aedes aegypti, creating a mosquito that fights for the good guys and, pending Food and Drug Administration approval, will be unleashed in the Keys ASAP.
“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, told the Associated Press.
Dengue and chikungunya — also charmingly called “break-bone” fever — are no joke. About 50 million people contract dengue each year — more than 2 percent die. Chikungunya is less widespread, but has already done damage in the Caribbean after afflicting 1 million people there in 2014.
The Aedes aegypti, meanwhile, is a formidable foe. Though Florida is routinely soaked with insecticide, these mosquitoes have developed resistance to more than half of the chemicals designed to kill them...
The Frankenstein mosquitoes Oxitec created don’t moan or accidentally drown little girls in ponds. But when they breed with good old fashioned mosquitoes, the resulting larvae die. Release enough into the wild and voila: Aedes aegypti is toast.
“Using advanced genetics Oxitec breeds and releases ‘sterile’ males of the damage-causing species,” the company’s Web site reads. “This highly targeted form of biological control is safe to other species, causes no lasting impact on the environment and is cost-effective.”
The company said only genetically modified males would be released — not females, who bite. But even if someone somehow was bitten by a modified Aedes aegypti, it wouldn’t matter. No genetically modified DNA would enter the bloodstream, the company said...
Meanwhile, the FDA told the AP that said no field tests will be allowed until the agency has “thoroughly reviewed all the necessary information.”