Nearly 144,000 genetically-modified mosquitoes have been released in South Florida this week, sparking alarm among residents. Concerned locals have slammed the move by US-owned, British-based company Oxitec as a “live experiment”. However, the scientists behind the release insist it could control Florida’s population of disease-spreading mosquitoes.

It is hoped the release will reduce the spread of deadly mosquito-borne diseases in the Keys and end Florida’s reliance on expensive pesticides.

The mosquitos, developed by Oxitec, have been modified to pass on a protein that will eventually decimate overall mosquito populations in the region.

The genetically-modified mosquitos – part of the Aedes aegypti species – are all male.

Since only female mosquitoes can bite, the scientists argue there is no risk to humans.

The Aedes aegypti mosquitos are known to carry several devastating diseases, including Zika, Dengue and Yellow Fever.

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Meredith Fensom from Oxitec told NBC’s Today programme: “In the Keys, they make up 4 percent of the mosquito population but are responsibly for all of the transmission of disease to humans.”

She said that a similar project in Brazil led to a 94 percent reduction in the target mosquito population.

However, the project has also garnered criticism from environmental groups.

Dana Perls from Friends of the Earth told NBC: “Genetically engineered organisms are not something we can control. Evolution will find its own way.”

Barry Wray, the executive director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, said: “Our opposition has been long and strong.

“We live here, this our home, and they’re forcing this down people’s throats.”

The project was greenlit by the US Environment Protection Agency in May 2020 and will release up to 750 million genetically-altered mosquitoes across 2021 and 2022.

Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen said: “We’re focused on demonstrating the value this technology can have for Florida Keys residents, communities and business owners, while protecting the Keys’ beautiful and sensitive habitat that we all value so much.”

After the NBC report, one viewer joked: “And that children, is how the zombie apocalypse started.”

Another person responded: “Well this couldn’t possibly end badly.”



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