Recently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency approved two locations to release 750-million genetically-modified mosquitoes if also given state and local support.
According to Meredith Fensom, a spokesperson from Oxitec, local support has been approved in Florida but not yet Harris County.
“Believe it or not, we have been releasing our mosquitoes for 10 years,” said Fensom. “This would be the first project in the United States. We’ve been working in other countries with great results.”
According to Oxitec, their company engineers genetically modified male mosquitoes with sabotaging DNA. When these GMO mosquitoes mate with females, the genes pass-on and kill female offspring before they reach adulthood.
“In fairly short order, you have a population crash, because there are no females to mate with,” said Fensom.
The company targets non-native Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, known for carrying potentially deadly viruses such as Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, and the Zika Virus.
“When we’ve worked in other countries like Brazil, sometimes in just 6 months, we’ve been able to reduce the disease-carrying mosquito population by about 95 percent,” said Fensom.
While some people are excited about the possibility, others remain hesitant.
"With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida — the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment. Now the Monroe County Mosquito Control District has given the final permission needed. What could possibly go wrong? We don't know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks, now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed," said Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety.
“We’re not spraying chemicals,” said Fensom. “There are no harmful chemicals in the environment. Beneficial insects like bees and butterflies are unharmed.”
While the EPA has given Oxitec to release millions of their mosquitoes in Florida and Harris County, local support is still needed before they fly around Houston.
A spokesperson from Harris County Public Health provided the written response below.
“At this time there are no agreements or approval in place for Harris County to work with Oxitec in 2021,” said Samuel Bissett from HCPH. “While we have had discussions with Oxitec previously about a potential partnership with Harris County Public Health, those discussions were paused last year between both sides. The EPA’s release from earlier this year regarding approval of this initiative detailed that they’ll be able to operate in Monroe County and Harris County if approved by state and local authorities. That is not the case for Harris County at this time. If things change, we’ll let our residents and partners know immediately, but Oxitec’s primary focus is launching the Monroe County program and our focus is on our efforts with the COVID-19 pandemic.”