This outbreak sent mosquito control into hyperdrive, and the local Department of Health launched massive education campaigns that urged residents to dump any standing water and use bug spray liberally. These efforts appeared successful: There hasn't been a confirmed case of dengue in the Keys since November 2010.

This dearth of recent infections is a rallying point for the concerned Conchs at the table. "There haven't been any reported cases in almost two years, but they're trying to use [dengue fever] as the reason they need to release Oxitec's mosquitoes," says Kelly Young, a blond, soccer-mom-looking lady. "There's no validity to that argument."

An elderly woman with a refined British accent who didn't want to reveal her name worries that decimating the population of one mosquito species could damage the local food chain and ecosystem. "Everything has a purpose," she says.

Michael Doyle, executive director of Florida Keys Mosquito Control, in front of one of the four helicopters used to wage aerial assaults on mosquitoes.
Chris Sweeney
Michael Doyle, executive director of Florida Keys Mosquito Control, in front of one of the four helicopters used to wage aerial assaults on mosquitoes.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the only species in the South Florida capable of spreading dengue fever.
Courtesy of Oxitec
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the only species in the South Florida capable of spreading dengue fever.

Mila de Mier, a real estate agent who organized this get-together and started a petition against the experiment, rattles off a litany of concerns at a machine-gun pace in her thick Spanish accent. "They're going to spend our money for us to become guinea pigs," she says. "We want this place to remain natural, to be the way it is. We don't need their mosquitoes... Mr. Doyle wants to be a pioneer. He wants to be the first in the U.S. to do this type of experiment."

Biddle raises his soft voice to tamp down this dizzying powder keg of a roundtable. "Mosquito Control is not an enemy; they're good people," he says, a sentiment that everyone, including de Mier, nods in agreement with. "I'm not against this technology. What I am against is corporations like Monsanto and now this Oxitec company cutting corners and not listening to the scientific community."

Although the mosquito control department had been kicking around the idea of releasing modified skeeters for two years, it wasn't until a newspaper article published this past winter that these Conchs became aware of it. Once Biddle, de Mier, and other critics began to complain, Oxitec and Doyle held a town meeting to discuss the issue and assure residents that the plan is safe. The crew at the table says the event was little more than a sales pitch. So they began doing their own research.

That's when they learned about some troubling controversies ignited by Oxitec's experiments.


Today, the mosquito control industry is an arms race.

After World War II, when developers forged into the swamplands, control efforts were concentrated on DDT, a powerful and notorious pesticide first tested in Florida. By the 1950s, however, scientists discovered that some mosquitoes had become resistant to it. Chemists pushed on and created potent alternatives, a few of which decimated anything and everything in their paths. But the birth of the environmental movement in the 1960s and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring left mosquito control efforts in a quagmire. How could they kill the mosquitoes without destroying entire ecosystems or making humans ill?

"Everything is becoming more smart-bombish. It's like the military in a lot of ways," Doyle says. "In the '50s, it wasn't that complicated. You got into a truck, and off you went. Now the industry is much more specialized. There are computer-aided drift models [to predict how pesticides will disperse in the wind], and you use a laser to calibrate your droplet size [for the sprays]. It's an intricate science."

Despite access to these sophisticated-sounding technologies, Doyle is in a lurch. Although there are effective chemicals for killing pests, he can't use many of them because of tighter regulations and greater public awareness, especially in an area as environmentally sound as the Keys.

The larvicide dropped by the helicopter is good for killing only mosquito larvae, not mature, flying mosquitoes. Doyle estimates that for larviciding to be effective to the point he desires, the mosquito control program would need to add 40 staff members. Efforts to kill adult mosquitoes, a tactic known as adulticiding, rely on chemicals dispersed by planes and trucks. For adulticides — some of which are derived from chrysanthemum flowers — to kill mosquitoes, a droplet actually has to hit a flying mosquito. Achieving this level of precision is pricey, and many of these chemicals are too potent to regularly dump over the Keys.

"There are some really toxic chemicals I could use but won't," Doyle says. "There are some that have a really big impact on marine life, but we're a marine sanctuary, so I'm not going to use those."

Anyway, Doyle explains, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the dengue-spreading species, live in and around homes, not out in wetlands and other open areas that are easy to blanket in a fog of killer chemicals and bacteria. "They're highly adaptive to human beings," he says. "They're almost like a parasite." Current efforts against this single species are focused on sending 18 full-time inspectors to thousands of properties throughout the Keys to make sure there's no standing water. If an inspector finds a few Aedes aegypti, he or she can use a handheld fogger to kill them. But to wage a successful war against Aedes aegypti that will get shock-and-awe-like results requires a game changer.

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11 comments
rana7071
rana7071

I completely agree with the above comment, the internet is with a doubt growing into the most important medium of communication across the globe and its due to sites like this that ideas are spreading so quickly. Thank you for the article. I just about passed your blog up in Google but now I'm glad I clicked the link and got to read through it. I'm definitely a little better informed now. I'll be sharing your site with some other people I know. They'll get a kick out of what I just read too.

orlando roofing contractor

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Organic Green Earth Solutions

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Jared Pitcher
Jared Pitcher

DEATH TO THE MOSQUITOS! The Dengue Virus is a Terrorist that invades cells and Hijacks the cell's ribosomes to make copies of itself that will go on to invade/hijack other cells. This Virus has potential to be transfered to a different species including Homo sapiens. www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDRRKA8CJHk .The goal is to stop cell division and PREVENT these creatures from transmitting this horrible Virus to other species. Dengue is Deadly, and Oxitec holds the patent on this amazing tool to lower the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, generation by generation. The FDA is setting an example for the world, and must not disappoint.

FQS9000
FQS9000

It's so scary and I'm so stupid.  A terrible combination.  Let's have a study.  A real big, long and expensive study with lots of Phds and bureaucrats.  I don't care how many people die in the mean time so long as it isn't anybody in my family, then I'll sue the shit out of everybody who might have a dollar. 

Adam Czyrek
Adam Czyrek

Can someone give me an example of previous geo/bio engineering that had greater benefits than the eventual risks? This is a real, almost non-snarky question. On the bad side we have, rabbits in Australia, dams stopping salmon, snakes in Hawaii... Seriously give me one example of relatively harm free bio engineering please. Also, I wonder how far this UK company would get releasing GM mozzies in their home country.. ?

Guest
Guest

There are several cheap, effective and environmentally friendly alternatives to GM mosquitoes.  Native plants that repel Aedes aegypti like American Beautyberry can be used as screening to reduce the House Index.  A study using repellent plants in Tanzania reduced all mosquitoes found in houses by 50%, the cost was $1.50 per house which includes maintenance and labor costs.  This can be used with attractants and lethal ovitraps using used coffee grounds or other cheap environmentally friendly larvicides, as well as fan traps on the lethal ovitraps to not only reduce the larvae survival but also catch the adult females.  This push pull method may not only reduce the larvae from surviving, but unlike GM mosquitoes will also target the adult females and reduce the chance of Aedes aegypti entering the home, and at a fraction of the cost.

Other methods include the use of some strains of the fungi Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae which some peer reviewed studies suggest can also reduce the survival of Aedes aegypti offspring, but unlike GM mosquitoes can also cause mortality in the adult females, thus reducing both the population and the chance of being bit.

Yet another example is use of the bacteria Wolbachia, which some peer reviewed studies suggest may reduce the adult Aedes aegypti lifespan by 50% and unlike GM mosquitoes may actually provide resistance against dengue serotype 2 and chikungunya.  There are several other alternatives as well.

What mosquito control has failed to mention is that releasing millions of GM mosquitoes including thousands of females could potentially increase the risk of transmitting mosquito-borne diseases.  Releasing millions of male mosquitoes may also increase the risk of chikungunya which a peer reviewed study suggested can be spread when Aedes aegypti mate.  With each male mating as many as 21 times in their lifetime that is a huge risk not worth taking unless the adult female lifespan is significantly reduced or there is resistance against chikungunya, which doesn't appear to be the case for GM mosquitoes.  There have been over 100 cases of chikungunya reported in the U.S. between 2006 and 2009 including cases in Florida so this a very real risk.  Florida entomologist Walter J. Tabachnick, estimated that if an outbreak that occurred in Italy had occurred in Key West it would have caused 1,200 cases of chikungunya and 4,000 cases if it occurred during tourist season.  The Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae alternatives both reduce the lifespan of the adult female and therefore reduce the chance of chikungunya spreading, they can also be used without releasing more males but instead infecting the already existing males and/or females.  The Wolbachia alternative may reduce the lifespan of adult female Aedes aegypti and may even provide resistance against chikungunya, so even if more males were released there would be a significantly reduced risk of spreading chikungunya compared to GM mosquitoes.

There are numerous unknows such as whether or not the synthetic protein based on sequences from E.coli and the Herpes simplex virus that the GM mosquitoes express could be transmitted to humans during a bite or affect animals ingesting them.  As well as a partially independent lab reporting 15% of the GM mosquito offspring surviving in the presence of chicken found in cat food and a member of the mosquito control district admitting that Aedes aegypti have been found breeding in pet dishes, making such an event likely if GM mosquitoes are released.  Along with Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory's Phil Lounibos stating there is no supporting background evidence that GM mosquitoes would solve a dengue problem.  All of this and more makes a GM mosquito release seem like an expensive, pointless and potentially risky proposal.

CALZONE
CALZONE

Hey Nutbag scientists! S-T-O-P F$@#ng with mother nature! YOU are killing us (WE THE PEOPLE) with your Quack science

Bill
Bill

Mosquito Control does not even have permits for aerial spraying of pesticides.  Check that fact.  They are irresponsible and ignorant.  I don't trust them for a minute, and I don't trust their plan for releasing genetically modified Mosquitoes.

The new Middle Class Party
The new Middle Class Party

paranoid? Do they require a permit? Perhaps you would like the mosquitoes back and render South Florida uninhabitable? Did you get a permit to post this comment?

 
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