For many residents of the Florida Keys, one of the biggest nuisances is the prevalence of biting mosquitoes found throughout the islands. Of even greater importance, however, is the fact that a particular genus of female mosquito is responsible for carrying and spreading harmful diseases. The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, making up only 4% of all mosquitos in the Keys, are an invasive species of female mosquitoes in the Keys and have been known to transmit diseases such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Of particular significance for residents of the Keys is dengue, which has been locally transmitted in recent years as a result of these female biting mosquitoes. Nearly all disease transmitted by mosquitoes in the Keys is caused by Aedes aegypti. In 2020, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District joined forces with Oxitec to find a solution to the problem of this invasive mosquito.
This year, Oxitec initiated a plan to release their own genetically modified male, non-biting mosquitoes to help control the population of Aedes aegypti. How is it expected to work? The Oxitec male mosquitoes, once released, will find and mate with the Aedes aegypti. Any female offspring from the mating encounters cannot survive, thus limiting the number of female biting mosquitoes. Oxitec mosquitoes have been designed with technology that reportedly makes them self-limiting and safe to humans.
This week, Oxitec completed its most crucial phase to date - release of their male mosquitoes. This week massive amounts of their mosquitoes were released throughout the Florida Keys. They had been placed in boxes that just require water to keep the mosquitoes alive. Boxes were placed all up and down the chain of islands. The final round of boxes opened this week, completing the release phase. Now, scientists for Oxitec will track the mosquitoes to analyze the mating patterns and evaluate their effectiveness. It is the hope of the project that by limiting these invasive mosquitoes, they can reduce disease transmission and enable residents of Florida Keys homes to appreciate an even greater living experience.