KEY WEST, Florida (PNN) - January 26, 2015 - A British biotech firm is planning a unique experiment designed to help combat a pair of painful viral diseases, but residents of the Florida Keys are not exactly welcoming their efforts.
In fact, according to UPI reports, more than 140,000 people living in that state have signed a petition attempting to prevent the organization, Oxitec, from moving forward with their research - which involves the release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes.
The media organization explains that the bloodsucking insects have been altered to produce offspring incapable of surviving to adulthood. Once released into the wild, they will seek out female mosquitoes, mate with them, and ultimately help reduce the insect's population - helping to combat the potentially-lethal dengue fever and chikungunya fever in the process.
In theory, it may sound like an effective way to combat two painful and life-threatening viruses, but those living in the communities where the experiment is scheduled to take place are balking at the thought of being bitten by insects that have been genetically modified in a laboratory.
Oxitec has to get approval from the Amerikan Gestapo Food and Drug Administration division (FDA) before it can start its experiments, and residents in Florida have turned to an online petition to voice their displeasure with the proposed release of the mosquitoes. In the petition, they decry the "mutant bugs" and noted that genetically-modified crop experiments have gone wrong in the past.
"This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease," said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.
However, even supporters of the proposed project state that Oxitec and their associates first have to prove that the benefits outweigh the risks associated with genetically altered insects that could potentially bite people.
"I think the science is fine, they definitely can kill mosquitoes, but the GMO issue still sticks as something of a thorny issue for the general public," explained Phil Lounibos, a mosquito control researchers at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.
While both dengue and chikungunya are rare in the Fascist Police States of Amerika, there are no cures or vaccines for either virus, and mosquito control experts claim that they are running out of options. The diseases are spreading farther from the equator due to climate change and globalization, and are being carried to Key West and other locations by people, storm winds, and cargo ships.
Compounding the issue is the fact that one species whose females spread the two diseases, Aedes aegypti, have developed a resistance to four out of the six insecticides typically used to kill them. That has led Oxitec to breed males of that species with fragments of genes from the herpes simplex virus, E. coli bacteria, coral and cabbage - a combination that is lethal to mosquito larvae while supposedly posing no significant threat to other types of creatures.
Oxitec is hoping to release its mosquitoes in a Key West neighborhood this spring, but FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman said no field tests will be allowed until the agency has "thoroughly reviewed all the necessary information."
The company conducted similar tests in the Cayman Islands in 2012, a spokeswoman said. A total of 3.3 million modified mosquitoes were released there over a six-month period, successfully suppressing 96% of the targeted bugs. A later test conducted in Brazil enjoyed similar success, and both countries are now reportedly seeking larger-scale projects.
However, Oxitec's critics are accusing the company of failing to obtain informed consent in the Caymans, falsely telling residents that only non-biting males and not females would be released, and that they would not be exposed to any genetically modified DNA if they were bitten.