by Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com
In late April, the biotechnology company Oxitec placed blue-and-white hexagonal boxes on the properties of six private volunteers around the Florida Keys. After pouring in water, the genetically modified mosquito eggs inside activated and hatched.
Now the first larvae have developed into full-grown male mosquitoes and taken flight, Susan Millis reports for Science News. About 12,000 of Oxitec’s male mosquitoes will fly out of the boxes each week for the next 12 weeks.
Over several mosquito generations, Oxitec’s genetically modified Aedes aegypti could reduce the population of female mosquitoes—which bite and spread disease—and then lower the entire population in the Florida Keys in turn. The current trial marks the first time that genetically modified mosquitoes have been released to fly freely in the United States.
It also comes just after the largest outbreak of dengue in the Florida Keys since 2010.
“Dengue was something we worried about in other areas,” says Andrea Leal, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District’s executive director, to Gwen Filosa at the Miami Herald. “Once that came to our doorstep we’ve seen other diseases. Dengue for us last year and Zika in Miami-Dade. This is really why we’re looking at these new tools for mosquito control.”