A proposed plan to invade the Florida Keys with genetically engineered – mutant – mosquitoes in an effort to decrease the disease-carrying insect's population has residents up in arms.
More than 103,000 people have signed the petition by Key West resident Mila de Mier to Florida Governor Rick Scott, the Chairman of the Florida Keys Mosquito Board of Commissioner William J. Shaw, and other key officials against the plan by British company Oxitec to release 5,000 to 10,000 mutant mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. The genetically engineered male mosquitoes are manipulated so that they contribute to producing offspring that die quickly and therefore would help suppress the spread of Dengue fever in the area.
But residents are worried that genetically modified mosquitoes could mutate and adversely affect the fragile ecosystem – or even humans – in the Florida Keys.
"The Florida Keys is a beautiful place, and it's my home," said de Mier to Orlando's WKMG-TV Local 6. "We won't be lab rats just so this company can make money. Oxitec says we have to do this to control mosquitoes, but it's just not true. Other methods of mosquito control are working. We don't need to gamble with mutant mosquitoes."
On her Change.org online petition, de Mier noted that Oxitec is applying to the FDA for an "animal bug" patent, which she is asking the FDA to reject.
"Nearly all experiments with genetically-modified crops have eventually resulted in unintended consequences: superweeds more resistant to herbicides, mutated and resistant insects also collateral damage to ecosystems," she warns on Change.org.
"Why would we not expect GM (genetically modified) insects, especially those that bite humans, to have similar unintended negative consequences?"
The British biotech company, however, defended its genetically modified mosquitoes as safe, saying that the insects that would be released are males, and therefore do not bite and cannot spread any disease.
"I hate mosquitoes and my kids get bit," de Mier said to KeysNet.com. "At first I thought this seemed like a good idea. But the more questions we ask, the more questions we have."
"I don't want my family to be guinea pigs," she said. "We need to look at the bigger picture of the environment, and think about could happen if something goes wrong."