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None opposed to release of treated mosquitoes

BY TIMOTHY O'HARA Citizen Staff
tohara@keysnews.com


The plan by the British company Oxitec to conduct a test release of genetically-modified mosquitoes on Key Haven has been bitterly opposed and lost in Key Haven during the general election in November.

The company has since refiled its proposal with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is looking for a new test area in the Florida Keys. 

In stark contrast, the plan by Kentucky-based MosquitoMate to release the same species of mosquitoes treated with the bacterium wolbachia is receiving overwhelming local support, even among those who vehemently opposed Oxitec’s plan.

The support was no more evident than on Monday night when the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and MosquitoMate held a workshop to inform the community of the plan to test release 40,000 mosquitoes in a residential neighborhood off Maloney Avenue on south Stock Island.

No south Stock Island residents showed up to the meeting and the only two people who spoke, Dr. Jack Norris and Ed Russo, spoke in favor of the MosquitoMate project.

Both have been vocal critics of Oxitec’s plan. On Monday, Norris, who had concerns about Oxitec’s plan because it called for the non-medicinal use of tetracycline, asked MosquitoMate representatives a few technical questions about how the process works.

“I have no arguments,” Norris then said.

Russo, the president of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, congratulated MosquitoMate representatives on their product and said the release could have a “positive impact on the community.”

Russo said the “rollout” for the MosquitoMate project has been much better than Oxitec’s and said there is a “social stigma” with anything with the words “genetically modified” in front of it.

Derric Nimmo, who has overseen Oxitec’s program in the Keys, said the difference in community response solely comes down to the “GM label.”

MosquitoMate will start the test release on Stock Island next month. The company plans to release seven lab-reared Aedes aegypti mosquitoes for every one wild mosquito in a roughly 10 acre area off Maloney Avenue, which is mostly mobile homes and commercial fishing docks.

The plan is to overwhelm the natural mosquito population, like what the U.S. Department of Agriculture did when it released radiated lab-reared screwworm flies on Big Pine Key to stop an infestation of screwworms there, the MosquitoMate founder, Stephen Dobson, said.

When a wolbachia-infected male mates with a wild female Aedes aegypti, the resulting eggs do not hatch. Male mosquitoes do not bite.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are being targeted because they can carry many diseases such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

tohara@keysnews.com