You may look at the name OX5034 and think this is the latest update on Elon Musk's youngest son, but it's about something way less adorable, genetically engineered mosquitoes.
In 2009 and 2010, the Aedes aegypti, which is just a group of letters meaning yellow fever mosquito, invaded the Florida Keys. These are the mosquitoes that are responsible for the spread of dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro and yellow fever.
Since that outbreak, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) has tried a bunch of ways to control the Aedes aegypti population. They tried aerial, truck, and backpack spraying, and even mosquito-eating fish. Nothing worked.
In 2012, the FKMCD reached out to Oxitec, a company that developed a male mosquito named OX513A. This engineered mosquito is programmed to die before becoming an adult, unless grown in water containing the antibiotic tetracycline. How would this help the Florida Keys?
Well, it's the female mosquito that bites for blood, the male feed off of nectar. Therefore, it's only female mosquitoes that are carriers of disease. So, the FKMCD worked with Oxitec to create OX5034, a mosquito that is engineered to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage. This prevents female mosquitoes from hatching and growing into disease-spreading biters.
Oxitec is an American, British-based company. Oxitec's CEO Grey Frandsen is thrilled with his company's latest product, stating "This is an exciting development because it represents the ground-breaking work of hundreds of passionate people over more than a decade in multiple countries, all of whom want to protect communities from dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and other vector-borne diseases."
THE POLITICS OF OX5034
Oxitec's original genetically modified OX513A was tested in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil. The trial that took place in Brazil, reduced Aedes aegypti by 95 per cent.
When Floridians learned that a new mosquito, OX5034, would be released for the first time in the Florida Keys, they were having none of it. According to CNN, Florida Keys residents were angry about being the "guinea pigs" for the "superbug" or "Robo-Frankenstein."
Oxitec wants to ensure the public that OX5034 is programmed to only kill female mosquitoes, and the males will survive for multiple generations, passing along the modified genes.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has given Oxitec the go-ahead to release the 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes in 2021 and 2022.
Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, expressed his concern by stating "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."
Residents of the Florida Keys have also expressed their objection with a petition on change.org.