Mosquitoe Releases

Title: Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Unleashed: Concerns Grow
Date: November 3, 2011
Source: Natural Society 

Abstract: This past Sunday researchers announced initial success regarding the environmental release of genetically modified mosquitoes which are designed to kill their own offspring before they reach adulthood. The first mosquito release took place in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean in 2009. On Sunday, October 27, the release was discussed in a scientific paper by the journal of Nature Biotechnology with the report concluding the releases’ success.

The study involved about 19,000 genetically modified mosquitoes which were released in the Grand Cayman Islands over a 25-acre area for four weeks. To evaluate the effects concerning the mosquitoes and their impact on the overall mosquito population, researchers set traps to capture the mosquitoes for larvae analysis. According to the study, genetically modified mosquitoes made up 16 percent of the whole male mosquito population in the test zone, with the lethal gene present in 10 percent of the larvae analyzed.

The mosquitoes are genetically modified with a gene designed to kill them unless given an antibiotic known as tetracycline. Offspring of the GM mosquitoes will receive this same lethal gene which will kill the offspring before it can ever reach adulthood. As more genetically modified mosquitoes mate with wild mosquitoes, the idea is that more and more offspring will be produced with the lethal gene, thereby reducing the mosquito population.

Oxitec, the British company responsible for the creation of the genetically modified mosquitoes, created this internally manipulated insect to help control agricultural pests and reduce insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria. They received about $24 million from investors for their mosquito science project.  It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation contributed to Oxitec’s goal, as the foundation funded genetically modified mosquitoes back in 2010. In fact, the actions taken by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been contributing to genetic modification for years.

The problem with the release of these genetically modified mosquitoes is that we have no idea what effects they could have on the environment as a whole as well as public health. Once these creatures are released, it is impossible to un-release them. The last thing this world needs is more genetically manipulated animals and crops.

Supporters of genetic modification have no idea of the long-term repercussions this often profit-driven practice holds for the future. Genetically modified crops have been shown time and time again to pose serious health risk. A study published back in 2009 showed that three Monsanto genetically modified corn varieties posed real health risk. Another study conducted in April of 2010 found that genetically modified soy was linked to sterility and infant mortality. Cardinal Peter Turkson, a prominent member of the Vatican , even spoke out against genetically modified crops and deemed them a “new form of slavery”.

Who are we to manipulate nature? The truth is that we have no idea what the future holds for genetic modification and the potential impacts it has on the environment and public health. Genetically modified food isn’t even labeled, and people all around the world are growing serious concerns about consuming such foods. We know that the genetically modified mosquitoes are equipped with a lethal gene designed to lower the mosquito population, but what does that really mean for humans?

We simply do not know the potential outcomes that could arise from such God-playing. As for present day genetic modification, all signs show that so far all we are doing is killing the food supply (Natural Society, 2011)

Title: GE Mosquito Release “Remains On Indefinite Hold” – But For How Long?
Date: May 11, 2012
Friends of the Earth

Abstract: Last weekend the Keynoter newspaper in the Florida Keys reported that plans to release genetically engineered mosquitoes in Key West “
remain on indefinite hold.” This came after an announcement by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District that this controversial experiment “will only take place once all necessary regulatory and ethical approvals have been obtained, from regulatory agencies at both federal and state level, based on the results of independent, rigorous, scientific review.”

FKMCD and its director, Michael Doyle, should be applauded for not rushing ahead with this experiment before receiving federal and state approval, or before these genetically engineered mosquitoes and their possible risks are independently and properly assessed.

The debate over which federal and state agencies would oversee the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the U.S. has been filled with confusion but is starting to become a bit clearer. Ever since the USDA stated back in November 2011 that it will not regulate the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, as originally expected, FKMCD and Oxitec (the creators of the GE mosquito) have been scrambling to find a federal agency that will take the lead. It appeared the federal agencies were playing a game of regulatory “hot potato,” each one passing on taking the leading role.

But just last week, Oxitec stated in a Bloomberg article that it has “opened an investigational new animal drug file with the Food and Drug Administration.” While this might sound wonky and bureaucratic, it is actually a telling move on the part of Oxitec -- one that starts to clarify if – and how - these genetically engineered mosquitoes will be regulated in the U.S.

In January 2009 the FDA came out with Guidance 187 which stated that the agency would regulate genetically engineered animals as “new animal drugs.” This idea originated in the Reagan administration and its’ Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, which stated that the U.S. didn’t need any new laws to regulate biotechnologies or their products --instead old laws could be interpreted in order to accommodate new technologies.

And so the FDA decided to use laws originally written to approve new animal drugs (think: vaccines for cattle, antibiotics added to chicken feed) to regulate the use of genetically engineered animals, and now insects. The FDA’s twisted logic reads like this: drugs change the composition and function of an animal; the genes inserted into an animal also change their composition and function; so ipso facto GE animals are new animal drugs. If this sounds like something out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel to you, you are not alone.

We have been fighting this wacky interpretation of how GE animals should be regulated for years. The FDA is also trying to approve a genetically engineered salmon, which would be the first-ever GE food animal, as a “new animal drug” as well. Yes, a fish we are supposed to eat is being approved as a new animal drug. And this classification makes even less sense for GE mosquitoes.

There are two overarching problems with using new animal drug laws to approve genetically engineered mosquitoes. First, classifying a genetically engineered mosquito as a ‘drug’ is the regulatory equivalent of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. These GE mosquitoes aren’t the same thing as, say, a new animal feed additive; an additive can’t reproduce in the wild, bite humans and spread disease,  or fly to another part of town. Therefore the questions regulators would need to ask regarding risks are entirely different.  So while the FDA might be able to determine the risks of an animal feed additive, that doesn’t mean it can do the same for GE mosquitoes. The FDA does not have the necessary expertise to judge the mosquitoes’ environmental effects and has a poor track record of collaborating with other agencies that could provide scientific and technical analysis. This is not the fault of the FDA, necessarily, since we can’t expect veterinary medicine experts to understand insect ecology. But it does mean our regulatory system has failed to keep up with new technologies and the current system is broken.

The second broad problem is the lack of transparency around new animal drug applications. As we have unfortunately learned through the FDA’s process for approving the GE salmon under these same laws, the public has little knowledge or input into the agency’s decisions; the FDA had the GE salmon application for over 10 years before it even announced the existence of the application andwhen it did, it was only because the application  was close to final approval. The public only received information that the GE salmon company and the FDA deemed was not “confidential business information.”

With the current process, the FDA could approve these GE mosquitoes for release as an “investigational new animal drug” and the public would not know, nor would it have any data, until the decision has already been made. “Independent, rigorous, scientific review” cannot happen in secret, behind closed doors. That would be bad science, bad policy, and would set a bad precedent for how GE insects are regulated.

The indefinite delay of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys is a victory for the grassroots organizations in the Keys, but unfortunately it may only be temporary. Now that we know Oxitec has a file open with the FDA to approve its mosquitoes as an investigational new animal drug, approval could come at any time and the public would have no warning or input.

Using antiquated laws that are ill-equipped to deal with novel risks posed by GE insects would set a dangerous precedent here in the U.S. and abroad and should not be allowed to continue. The time has come to actually write laws that address the novel risks posed by genetically engineered animals and insects, and to develop proper risk assessment models to measure the dangers.

The only way to stop this experiment outright is for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to announce it has cancelled its plans to release genetically engineered mosquitoes or for the FDA to stand up for the Keys residents and reject this application. If not, don’t expect this issue to disappear any time soon (Friends of the Earth, 2012)

Title: Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Released Into The Wild
Date: June 24, 2012
Source: Updated News

Abstract: Australian research scientists have developed a strategy for fighting Dengue fever, a viral disease spread by mosquitoes that affects more than 50 million people annually and causes fever and crippling joint and muscle pain—and in some cases even death.

Dengue kills FAR more people worldwide than influenza, yet it is rarely even mentioned by Western media.

A bacterium named Wolbachiapipientis naturally infects many insect species and has the ability to interfere with its host’s reproductive ability in such a way that entire populations become infected within just a few generationsi. When Wolbachia infects mosquitoes, the mosquitoes’ ability to transmit Dengue virus is almost completely blocked.

Researchers are encouraged that these bacterially infected mosquitoes are safe to humans and, once set loose, are capable of spreading on their own and overtaking the wild mosquito populations that transmit disease to humans.

In two northern Australian towns, between 10,000 and 20,000 of these infected mozzies were released (“mozzie” is Australian for mosquito), and wild mosquito infection rates neared 100 percent—meaning, mosquitoes that can infect humans were almost completely replaced by the ones that can’t.

This approach is a change from the swarms of genetically engineered mosquitoes being bred by companies like Oxitec, a British biotechnology company that has released millions of mutant mosquitoes into the fields of unsuspecting Australians.

Oxitec has found a way to genetically manipulate Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species mainly responsible for transmitting Dengue and yellow fever viruses to humans. These “frankenskeeters” represent a new and terrifying twist in potential GMO (genetically modified organisms) dangers—another product of modern science outpacing common sense when big money is thrown into the equation.

Dengue is a Far Worse Problem than Influenza
Dengue fever is on the rise worldwide and spreading faster than any other insect-borne viral disease. It is a threat to people in more than 100 countries, potentially affecting 2.5 billion people worldwide. Dengue infection typically causes high fever, crushing headache, severe pain behind your eyes, rash, and excruciating pain in your joints and spine, which is why it’s sometimes called “break bone fever.” Dr. Renu Daval-Drager of the World Health Organization says some cases of Dengue can be fatal, particularly the more serious Dengue hemorrhagic fever.

This under-recognized infectious disease used to be restricted to tropical areas; however, it has recently made its way into Texas, Florida and other southern states and is endemic in 125 countries. And Dengue has reached epidemic levels in Central America.

Outbreaks of Dengue virus occur primarily in areas where Aedes aegypti and sometimes Aedes albopictus mosquitoes live and breed. This includes most tropical areas of the world—the same places where malaria is found. Dengue is also spread by travelers who become infected while visiting Dengue-infested regions.

In the Americas, all four Dengue virus types are now present. Worldwide, there are about three to five million cases of influenza annually. However, there are about 100 million cases of Dengue fever annually, worldwide—20 times more cases than influenza!

In the past, the best means for preventing the spread of Dengue involved sustainable, community-based, integrated mosquito control, with limited reliance on chemical insecticides. However, new high-tech strategies are being developed to further combat the spread of this deadly virus. Some of these strategies involve genetically manipulating mosquitoes and then releasing them back into the wild, which can have any number of unforeseen consequences.

No Biotechnology is Without Some Risk
The scientific community has expressed concern about introducing a new type of mosquito that is infected with a bacterium that could be transmitted to humans. However, researchers claim Wolbachiabacterium is completely benign to humans.

According a report by Institute of Science in Society (ISIS)ii:

“In our research Wolbachia-infected insects are feeding on our researchers all the time and there is no sign of any human illness associated with insect Wolbachia. Wolbachia is an insect bacterium that has not been detected living inside humans or any other vertebrates. It can be made to infect human tissue culture cells in the laboratory but these laboratory systems are very artificial and do not predict the actual ability of Wolbachia to infect an actual human being.”

However, Daniel Strickman, national program leader for veterinary and medical entomology at the US Department of Agriculture, remains unconvinced. Strickman expresses some discomfort with releasing an agent that could spread out of control, in a way that does not occur in nature. He states there is a risk that, by making the mosquitoes less susceptible to dengue infection, they may become more susceptible to other viruses such as Japanese encephalitis.

Lead Australian Wolbachia researcher Scott O’Neill claims this problem is “extremely unlikely” as mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia are actually less susceptible to a wide range of pathogens they would normally transmit.iii

One thing can be said for certain—this approach to combating Dengue fever renders all attempts at genetically engineered (transgenic) mosquitoes obsolete. Transgenic mosquitoes are less effective, less efficient, more costly and far more risky.iv Unfortunately, GE “mutant mosquitoes” have already been released into the environment, without public consent, in several countries.

How all these changes affect other species consuming these altered insects remains to be seen.

Genetically Modified “Suicide Mosquitoes” Secretly Released in Grand Cayman Island
Can scientists simply release flying, human-biting genetically modified creatures into the air anytime they wish? Apparently, the answer to this question is “yes.” And they have.

Oxitec has created male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that live long enough in the wild to mate, but their offspring die before reaching adulthood, reducing the rates at which they can transmit Dengue virus to humans. The genetically engineered bugs contain a gene that kills them unless they are given tetracycline, a common antibiotic. In the lab, with tetracycline provided, multiple generations of the mosquitoes can be bred. Males are then released into the wild, where tetracycline is not available, and their offspring die without it.

The company claims the technique is safe because only the males are released into the environment—it’s only female mosquitoes that bite and spread diseases.

The problem is, millions of these GE bugs have been released into the open air by Oxitec as a means of field-testing their new “Dengue-proof” mosquitoes, without sufficient review and public consultation. They have conveniently chosen several countries with weak regulations. In 2009, Oxitec released their designer insects onto Grand Cayman Island, an island in the Caribbeanv.

The experiment will go down in scientific history as the first release of GM insects that could bite humans. Not surprisingly, it was conducted in secret.

Once the locals got wind of this, they responded with a fair amount of public outrage—and rightly so! But it didn’t stop there. Oxitec subsequently released their frankenskeeters in Malaysia, Brazilvi, Panama, India, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. And they are seeking approval from the US Agriculture Department to perform similar open-air testing in the Florida Keys.

Even supporters of this technology worry that public reaction will be similar to the one that has stalled acceptance of genetically engineered crops. Regulation has not caught up with science, and GE insects are a brand new adversary in this brave new world of genetic modification. Many companies are “making hay” while regulations are lacking.

Oxitec reports the results of their open-air testing exceeded expectations. The genetically engineered males were found to be only half as successful in mating as the wild ones, which is a rate sufficient to repress the population. Oxitec also reports that a 2010 trial on Cayman Island reduced the population of the targeted mosquitoes by 80 percent for three months. But what is the price of this progress? What will be the cost to humans and to the environment?

Just as with genetically engineered (GE) foods, the long-term effects of GE insects are completely unknown—the Earth and its inhabitants are being used as a laboratory for grand scale genetic experiments. It’s a blatant violation of human rights with regard to human experimentation.

Antibiotic-Dependent, Blood-Sucking Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes… What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Unfortunately, like so many other things, neither the government nor the biotech companies can offer peer-reviewed scientific proof of the safety of their biotechnology—they have blithely rushed ahead without any concern about the long-term effects. Once released, these insects cannot be “recalled.” There are several problemsvii with the assumption that these genetically engineered bugs are safe for the human population. For starters:

1. The potential exists for these genes, which hop from one place to another, to infect human blood by finding entry through skin lesions or inhaled dust. Such transmission could potentially wreak havoc with the human genome by creating “insertion mutations” and other unpredictable types of DNA damage.

2. According to Alfred Handler, a geneticist at the Agriculture Department in Hawaii, mosquitoes can develop resistance to the lethal gene and might then be released inadvertently. Todd Shelly, an entomologist for the Agriculture Department in Hawaii, said 3.5 percent of the insects in a laboratory test survived to adulthood, despite presumably carrying the lethal gene.

3. The sorting of male and female mosquitoes is done by hand. As a result, up to 0.5 percent of the released insects are female. Even that small of a percentage could lead to a temporary increase in the spread of Dengue—not to mention potentially transmitting the altered gene to humans.

4. Tetracycline and other antibiotics are now showing up in the environment, in soil and surface water samples. These genetically engineered mosquitoes were designed to die in the absence of tetracycline, assuming they would NOT have access to that drug in the wild. With tetracycline exposure (for example, in a lake) these mutant insects would actuallythrive in the wild, potentially creating a nightmarish scenario.

The problem is that genetically modified female mosquitoes can still bite humans. This means the protein, which kills their own larvae, might be injected into humans when the mosquitoes suck their blood, with unknown and potentially ghoulish consequences.

And those are just the mosquitoes…

Moths, Too
Oxitec is also the creator of genetically engineered pink bollworm moths, and swarms of this creature have already been unleashed over the fields of Arizona in an effort to overtake natural bollworm populations, which are a pest.5 The company appears to be edging its way toward becoming the next “Monsanto,” already having a monopoly on genetically modified insects. Their next frankenbug is a genetically engineered diamond-back or cabbage moth, slated for release over England.

Other groups are also developing genetically modified insects. One group has created Anophelesmosquitoes that are immune to the malaria parasite they normally carry, and also manufacturing male Anopheles that lack sperm.9

Realizing genetic engineering is risky technology, the World Health Organization is finalizing new guidelines about how GE insects must be deployed in developing countries, which it expects to release by the end of 2012ix (Updated News, 2012).

Title: Field Performance Of Engineered Male Mosquitoes
Date: June 28, 2011

Abstract: Dengue is the most medically important arthropod-borne viral disease, with 50–100 million cases reported annually worldwide
. As no licensed vaccine or dedicated therapy exists for dengue, the most promising strategies to control the disease involve targeting the predominant mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti. However, the current methods to do this are… (, 2011).

Title: Mutant Bird Flu Would Be Airborne, Scientists Say
Date: June 21, 2012

Abstract: Here's what it takes to make a deadly virus transmissible through the air: as few as five genetic mutations, according to a new study.

This research, published in the journal Science, is the second of two controversial studies to finally be released that examines how the H5N1 bird flu virus can be genetically altered and transmitted in mammals. Publication of both studies had been delayed many months due to fears that the research could be misused and become a bio-security threat.

Although these particular engineered forms of H5N1 have not been found in nature, the virus has potential to mutate enough such that it could become airborne.

H5N1 influenza can be deadly to people, but in its natural forms it does not easily transfer between people through respiratory droplets, as far as scientists know. The World Health Organization has recorded 355 humans deaths from it out of 602 cases, although some research has questioned this high mortality rate.

The journals Science and Nature had agreed to postpone the publication of the two studies related to the genetically altered virus.

In January, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended that this research be published without "methods or details" that terrorists might be able to use for biological weapons. The board also said the data could assist in preparing for a possible future outbreak, however.

Then in February, the World Health Organization convened a meeting, at which the recommendation was to publish the studies - just not yet. In April, the National Institutes of Health chimed in, also recommending publication.

The first study to be published on the topic was in the journal Nature, and was led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka. It was released in May.

The other research group, which authored the new study in Science, was led by Ron Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Both Kawaoka and Fouchier's groups created a mutated version of H5N1 that made it easier to transmit from mammal to mammal. They used ferrets because these animals are a good approximation for how viruses behave in humans.

Fouchier's study examines what mutations would be necessary to get the virus airborne. He and colleagues found five mutations consistent in a form of the H5N1 flu virus that could spread among ferrets through the air.

None of the ferrets died after developing the flu, the researchers said.

In a separate analysis, researchers looked at the likelihood that an airborne avian flu virus would evolve on its own from the H5N1 currently found in nature.

This study, also published in Science this week, looked at nearly 4,000 strains of influenza virus and frequently found two of the five mutations that appear to be involved in airborne transmission. These two mutations have been found in viruses from both birds and humans, although not in naturally-occurring H5N1 strains.

Derek Smith of the University of Cambridge, who co-authored that study, said at a press briefing that it's possible that only three mutations are necessary for the virus to evolve.

Smith's group also did mathematical modeling to look at whether the other mutations could evolve when the bird flu jumps to a human or other mammal.

"We find that it is possible for such a virus to evolve three mutations within a single host," Smith said during the press call.

If it takes four for five mutations to become airborne, that would be more difficult - but it's unclear just how likely it would be, Smith said.

While the Nature study looked at how a bird flu virus could become airborne through mutations and re-assortment with other viruses, the latest research in Science suggests mutations alone could do the trick.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters that the benefits from the Science study, in terms stimulating ideas and pursuing ways to understand the transmissibility, adaptability and pathogenesis of the virus, outweigh the risks that someone will use the data for nefarious purposes.

"Does that mean that there's no risk? No, of course not. I can't tell you at all
that there's no risk. But the benefits in my mind outweigh the risks," he said.

Making the research available generally will hopefully spark input on this topic from researchers in a wide variety of fields, he said.

It is technologically possible to create vaccine based on the genetic code of a flu virus strain including this one, researchers said. Several companies are already making H5N1 vaccines.

Research is ongoing to accelerate the amount of vaccine doses available by using adjuvants, which are agents that modify the effects of vaccines, Fauci said. There is also work ongoing into using computational sequencing to anticipate every possible influenza strain that could emerge, such that a databank could be established to prepare for the outbreak of any one of them, he said.

"Right now we're in a much, much better position than we were when we had vaccine available after the peak of the 2009 H1N1 two years ago," Fauci said (CNN, 2012)

Title: Florida Keys Residents Resist Release Of Dengue Fever-Immune Mosquitoes
Date: July 10, 2012

Abstract: A British company that has developed a genetically modified mosquito to resist the spread of dengue fever is coming up against growing opposition to a plan to release the 
insects into the Florida Keys. petition started by a woman in Key West opposing the release has garnered almost 90,000 signatures and rising. "Say no to genetically modified mosquitoes release," the petition demands.

Mila de Mier, the author of the petition, began the campaign because she said she was worried about the lack of scientific understanding of what the insects could do to the delicate ecosystem of the Florida Keys. She accused Oxitec, the UK-based biotech firm that has developed the mosquito, of failing to listen to local wishes.

"We need more data. If something goes wrong the consequences could be catastrophic not only for humans but also the whole ecosystem, and I don't want my family being used as laboratory rats for this," de Mier told the Guardian.

Oxitec, whose headquarters are in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, has developed the genetically modified mosquito in laboratories over the past 10 years, releasing it into the open in the Cayman islands for the first time in 2009. The insect belongs to the Aedes aegypti species which is the carrier of dengue fever.

Hadyn Parry, Oxitec's chief executive, said that that the company had been approached by officials in Florida after dengue fever was reported in the Keys in 2009 and 2010. "The decision to go ahead is entirely a local Floridal decision – it's not up to us," he said.

The petition calls on the federal regulator the US Food and Drug Administration to withhold permission for Oxitec's mosquito to be released. De Mier said there are too many questions left hanging, such as whether the gene introduced into the insect could itself mutate, or whether the reduction of the A. aegypti mosquito could have adverse connotations for the local ecosystem.

Parry dismissed those fears. Only male mosquitoes would be released, he said, that do not bite and do not carry dengue fever.

The mutation works by effectively sterelising the mosquitoes and preventing them from having offspring. That also means, Oxitec insists, that there is no danger of the mutation that has been introduced to the males from being passed down the generations.

"This is a form of birth control for mosquitoes. It brings the population of the species down very fast indeed," Parry said.

The tests in the Cayman islands suggested that the number of A. aegyptimosquitoes could be reduced by about 75% over a year. It had no impact on any other species of mosquito or other insect types, and allowed the amount of chemical pesticide sprayed locally also to be reduced, the company says.

Dengue fever has become a growing problem around the world, as the carrier mosquito spreads in warming climates. It strikes about 100 million people a year globally with a flu-like illness that can be severe and even fatal.

It is now found everywhere north of Buenos Aires and south of Miami, as well as in 27 other southerly states in the US.

In the Keys, the virus that causes dengue has to be brought in every year and is then carried from person to person by the mosquitoes. As there is so much international tourism to the area, the chance of incoming viruses are high and although there were no incidents in 2011, there is a chance of repeat outbreaks (Guardian, 2012)

Title: Some Florida Residents Protesting ‘Mutant Mosquitoes’ Plan
Date: July 17, 2012
Yahoo News

Abstract: More than 100,000 residents in Key West have signed a petition against introducing several thousand genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida ecosystem.

The Christian Post reports that the 5,000 to 10,000 modified male insects are designed by British company Oxitec to die off more quickly. The hope is that when they reproduce with the local mosquito population, it would eventually reduce the rates of dengue fever.

However, Mila de Mier says that the long-term effects of the so-called "mutant mosquitoes" are unknown and launched an online petition that she plans to deliver to Gov. Rick Scott and other officials once it reaches 150,000 signatures.

"There are more questions than answers and we need more testing to be done," de Mier writes on the petition site, claiming that dengue fever has been absent from Key West since 2010.

Although dengue fever has unpleasant symptoms, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says it is not considered a deadly disease. Its effects are commonly treated with Tylenol and fluids.

And as with all online petitions, it's important to put the results into context. As of now, it's impossible to know exactly how many of the supporters are even residents of Key West. U.S. Census data shows that Key West only has a population of about 25,000 residents and the entire Florida Keys are home to about 73,000 people.

The IBTimes notes that concerns over the plan have tapped into a larger debate over genetically modified foods.

"We won't be lab rats just so this company can make money. Oxitec says we have to do this to control mosquitoes, but it's just not true," de Mier told Orlando's WKMG-TV. "Other methods of mosquito control are working. We don't need to gamble with mutant mosquitoes" (Yahoo News, 2012)

Title: FDA Turns South Floridians Into Human Guinea Pigs
Date: September 4, 2012

Abstract: Untested, bio-engineered mosquitoes will likely be released in the Florida Keys.

The British firm Oxitec is in the process of seeking approval in the US for a mosquito that has been genetically engineered to combat dengue fever (an infectious, mosquito-borne tropical disease that causes fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a skin rash similar to measles). The company wants to release the mosquitoes for testing in the Florida Keys, and has opened an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the FDA.

The Florida Keys Mosquito District had earlier said that a release of mosquitoes “will only take place once all necessary regulatory and ethical approvals have been obtained from regulatory agencies at both federal and state level, based on the results of independent, rigorous, scientific review”—and that the proposal is now “on indefinite hold.” To the contrary, permits for testing in Florida Keys, and eventual approval of GE mosquitoes, could be in our immediate future—now that Oxitec has an IND with the industry-friendly FDA.

According to our sources, the USDA issued a permit on June 4 for “GE yellow fever mosquitoes” for import to Florida. We have received word that the USDA is planning to study Oxitec’s mosquitoes (in containers) to see how well they mate with native Key West mosquitoes.

Note that GE mosquitoes haven’t been proven safe, either for the environment or for the human population. It hasn’t even been proven that they can effectively reduce spread of dengue fever! The people of Florida Keys will be guinea pigs in this experiment, but who knows how far these mosquitoes might spread—or with what consequences? (ANH, 2012)