Florida’s Feud Over Zika-Fighting GMO Mosquitoes

Categories: Health & Nutrition, Tech

Mosquitoes can be the deadliest animal on Earth. 

Of the Zika cases reported in the in the United States so far, most have been incidents of travelers exposed in countries where the virus is active, which currently include 54 nations and territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But a recent outbreak in Miami traced to a local mosquito population led the CDC to take the rare step of issuing a travel warning. The authorities now are trying to release GMO Mosquitoes, and the people are not happy.

Now that the Zika virus has not only arrived in the United States, but is also being transmitted through local mosquito populations, here are strategies to control mosquito populations in your area and protect yourself from their bites.

Mosquitoes are dangerous insects, and the latest Zika virus is just the latest in a series of devastating outbreaks directly attributable to these flying syringes. But even as new epidemics occur, the same prevention strategies should continue to work to keep the disease-ridden bloodsuckers at bay.

On a Tuesday morning in September, under a sweltering tropical sun on the island of Grand Cayman, 140,000 mosquitoes flit around in four large coolers in the back of a gray Toyota minivan. Behind the wheel isRenaudLacroix, a Ph.D. in biology and medical entomology who works for the British biotechnology companyOxitec. A colleague,IsavellaEvangelou, crouches behind him in a tight space next to the coolers. The minivan is idling on the side of a dirt road in West Bay, a quiet neighborhood where iguanas and roosters dart in and out of the yards of small homes painted in Caribbean pastels. The time has come for the mosquitoes to fulfill the purpose for which they were genetically engineered: a kamikaze mission to eliminate their own species.

As the minivan’s air conditioning struggles against the humidity, the two Oxitec scientists prepare for the release—a process that, given the Island of Dr. Moreau–level hysteria that sometimes greets Oxitec’s efforts in test sites around the world, is surprisingly low-tech. First, Evangelou pulls out a piece of light sheet metal that’s been shaped into a foot-wide tube. She sticks one end of the tube through a circular hole cut out of the van’s rear window, then fastens the other end in place with Velcro a few inches from the mouth of a small Dyson fan. Next, she takes her seat in the back, next to the fan, opens one of the coolers, and pulls out one of the 30 plastic containers in which the mosquitoes are waiting. Lacroix puts the van in gear, and off they go.

“Do I need to make a left here,Isavella?”Lacroix asks. Consulting aGPS-equipped tablet, she says yes. As the van slowly winds through the neighborhood, the tablet lets out a beep about every 30 meters. Each time she hears a beep,Evangelou—using little, if any, of the training that earned her a master’s inbiology—gently lifts the lid of a plastic container, as close to the fan as she can, and several thousand mosquitoes are blown out through the metal tube and into the neighborhood.

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