AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friendly™ genetically-modified mosquitoes may soon be coming to Texas.
Biotech company Oxitec has been given an Experimental Use Permit from the Environmental Protection Agency and most recently the approval of several State of Florida agencies and departments to create and release genetically modified male mosquitoes in Florida. Texas could be next in 2021.
The new, genetically-engineered mosquito is called the friendly mosquito because the company says it’s safe. The new male mosquitoes would target only one species of mosquito, the Aedes aegypti females.
“Aedes aegypti females carry many of the world’s worst diseases — dengue, yellow fever, Zika and Chikungunya,” said Sonja Swiger, an entomologist at Texas A&M AgriLife. “They need that blood to produce their eggs. It’s just a slow removal in a sense like a syringe they suck the blood up as needed and they move on.”
Swiger says the male mosquito are altered in the laboratory to carry a protein that slows the survival of their female offspring when they mate with the wild female mosquitoes. The male offspring would survive and carry the same genetic modification to future generations to limit the spread of dangerous diseases.
Swiger says there are 85 species of mosquitoes in Texas, many carry a host of dangerous diseases especially Zika and the West Nile Virus.
“It’s a disease that most people are asymptomatic when they contract it. So I don’t think we really know the percentage base of how many people are really going to get it,” said Swiger.
The EPA says Oxitec can conduct the field tests over a two-year period in Monroe County, Florida, beginning in summer 2020, and in Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021.
A spokesperson for Harris County Public Health tells KXAN the county has put the discussion on hold but has maintained communication with Oxitec. As of now, Harris County does not have an agreement with Oxitec because the primary focus for Harris County is the pandemic, said the spokesperson.