The biotech company Oxitec has, after a decade of pushing through regulatory hurdles, unleashed its genetically-engineered mosquitoes on the Florida Keys.
The experiment, which is the first release of experimental gene-hacked organisms at an ecological scale in the United States, is now underway, Live Science reports. As it continues, Oxitec and the local mosquito control board will monitor the mosquito population both to see if the bugs help kill off disease-spreading mosquitoes in the wild and to make sure that the experimental bugs don't proliferate out of control themselves. If it works — and that's a pretty big "if" — the experiment could result in a new, highly-targeted way of killing off local pests without spraying chemicals.
As Futurism previously reported, the experiment was fairly unpopular among local residents, environmental activists, and scientific experts, many of whom shared that they felt strong-armed or misled into an experiment that it was impossible to opt out of without packing up and leaving town.
"We want more information," Florida Keys resident and environmental advocate Meagan Hull told Futurism. "We've been demanding and asking and begging for more information for ten years. We still don’t have it. That’s why it's an experiment. They're using us for their bottom line."
The new-fangled mosquitoes contain a proprietary gene that should, according to Oxitec, prevent any females from surviving past the larval stage and leave only non-biting males. As those males mate with wild females, they pass on the gene in an attempt to curb the wild population and also gradually dilute the engineered gene out of existence.
The current form of the experiment is meant to not only test that self-limiting mechanism but also to see whether replacing the wild mosquitoes with gene-hacked versions actually reduces the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases. But residents say questions about spotty science and missing data cast doubt over whether it will work.
"Oxitec is giving us all the information, and they’re the vendor," Hull told Futurism. "There's no third-party independent reviewed science, there are no safety studies, there’s no environmental impact study."
READ MORE: First genetically modified mosquitoes released in US [Live Science]