Environment US poised to release 2.4bn genetically modified male mosquitoes to battle deadly diseases

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Genetically modified male mosquitoes may soon be buzzing across areas of California, in an experiment to stop the spread of invasive species in a warming climate.

Earlier this month, the EPA cleared the UK-based biotech company Oxitec to release a maximum of roughly 2.4bn of its genetically modified mosquitoes through 2024, expand its existing trial in Florida and start a new pilot project in California’s Central Valley, where mosquito numbers are on the rise.

Oxitec’s modified mosquitoes are male, and therefore don’t bite. They were developed with a special protein so that when they pair with a female mosquito the only viable offspring they produce are also non-biting males. The project specifically targets the Aedes aegypti mosquito, one of more than 3,500 mosquito species and a dangerous invasive insect that has spread diseases like dengue, Zika, Chikungunya, and yellow fever in other countries.

The company hopes that releasing its engineered bugs will help control the Aedes aegypti in California, where numbers have risen in recent years. The species is already on the move across the state, and has been found in 21 counties according to the California department of public health. The state’s devastating drought conditions – with low water levels in pipes and ponds, slowed stagnating streams, and less rain to flush out water systems – have helped mosquito populations flourish, and they love to lurk near houses and communities.

 
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