Mutant mosquitoes which carry a ‘death gene’ have been released into the skies in a bid to curb diseases from spreading to humans.
Tens of thousands of genetically modified male insects will mate with female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit illnesses, in Florida Keys, US.
Although the males don’t bite, they carry a gene which passes on and kills female offspring in the early larval stages.
The pilot project aims to wipe out a generation of potential disease-carriers.
Scientists say usual methods to stop the spread of disease from mosquitoes are becoming less effective due to resistance.
But critics have slammed the programme and say they are being used as “guinea pigs in a sci-fi experiment”, the Times reported.
Dana Perls, the food and technology programme manager at Friends of the Earth, said: “The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes puts Floridians, the environment and endangered species at risk.”
According to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, the species makes up about 4% of the region’s mosquito population.
But it is behind nearly all mosquito-borne disease which are transmitted to humans in the area.
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The district is leading the programme.
Biotechnology firm Oxitec, which is based in the UK, produced the eggs and sent them to America.
Dr Nathan Rose, the company’s head of regulatory affairs, said: “Mosquito-borne disease is a very real issue and conventional controls are losing their effectiveness.
“These mosquitoes are a viable solution.”
Florida Keys, a chain of tropical islands off the southern coast of the state, reported 65 locally transmitted cases of dengue fever last year.
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Dr Rose said it was the second time in a decade they have recorded a “substantial” number of cases.
The insects have previously been tested in Brazil, Panama, Malaysia and the Cayman Islands, according to Nature.
Researchers put the eggs in three areas of the Keys back in April, with around 12,000 males expected to emerge each week over 12 weeks.
Nearly 20million mosquitoes are due to emerge over a period of 16 weeks during a second phase of the programme later this year.
Anthony James, a molecular biologist focused from the University of California, said it was a “big deal” the firm was able to get the trial on the ground in the US.
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