JAKARTA - Bill Gates' genetic mosquito project has received the green light. The laboratory process is not only approved. Authorities have also licensed the release of 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida. Controversy has overshadowed this project since its inception.
In August, local officials in Florida, United States (US) approved the release of 750 million mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to reduce the population of mosquitoes that carry diseases, such as dengue fever or the zika virus. Quoting the BBC, Tuesday, November 17, the project was strongly protested by environmental groups.
They warned of unintended consequences if the mosquitoes were released. One group condemned the plan as a "Jurassic Park experiment" for the public.
Activists warn of possible damage to ecosystems and the potential for the creation of hybrids, mosquitoes which later will withstand insecticides. But the companies involved said there would be no risk to people or the environment. Their statement refers to a series of government-supported studies.
The plan to release mosquitoes by 2021 in the Florida Keys comes months after the modified mosquito was approved by federal regulators. In May, the US Environment Agency gave permission to UK-based and US-operated company Oxitec to produce the genetically engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquito, known as OX5034.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is known to spread deadly diseases to humans, such as dengue fever, zika, chikungunya and yellow fever. Only female mosquitoes bite humans because they need blood to produce eggs. So the plan is to release the modified male mosquitoes and will later breed with wild female mosquitoes.
However, males carry a protein that will kill all female offspring before they reach full bite age. Male mosquitoes, which only eat nectar, will survive and pass on genes. Over time, the aim is to reduce the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in the area so as to reduce the spread of the disease to humans.
Officials in the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) gave final approval to release 750 million modified mosquitoes over a two-year period. The plan has come under heavy criticism, including nearly 240,000 people who signed a petition on Change.org denouncing Oxitec's plans to use the US state "as a testing ground for mutant animals."
According to the Oxitec website, the company has found positive results by conducting field trials in Brazil. Oxitec will also spread engineered mosquitoes in Texas from 2021 and get federal approval.
In a statement denouncing the project, environmental group Friends of the Earth said: The release of genetically modified mosquitoes need not put Florida people, the environment and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic.
Aedes aegypti attacks south Florida and is commonly found in urban areas that have a lot of standing water. In many areas, including the Florida Keys, mosquitoes have developed resistance to pesticides.Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Regarding Oxitec, the company is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on this mosquito genetic engineering project. Bill & Melinda Gates is even said to have disbursed funds of up to 4.1 million US dollars for this project.
Although they have long focused on alleviating malaria cases, this experiment is a new approach by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was noted to have provided a grant of 2 billion US dollars to fight malaria.
As reported by Business Insider, Tuesday, November 17, Oxitec itself has branded its insects as "Friendly Mosquitoes". Another strain of "Friendly Mosquitoes" has been used in the past to help kill large numbers of aedes aegypty mosquitoes that can potentially carry zika virus, dengue fever, or yellow fever.
The mosquitoes are released in Brazil, in the Cayman Islands and in Panama. The mosquitoes have also passed controlled cage trials in India.
As a result, in a number of places, companies claim their genetically modified mosquitoes are able to reduce wild populations of aedes aegypti - which carry yellow fever and zika - by up to 90 percent.
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