Keys hopes to release genetically modified mosquitoes

Residents voice concerns at recent town hall meeting

KEY WEST, Fla. - Key West is beautiful and relaxing, but it's also a welcoming environment for a certain biting pest.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is looking for a new tool to reduce mosquitoes.

They are hoping to release genetically modified mosquitoes in the near future.

It's a plan that is bringing national attention to this laid back town.

And, while the Keys Mosquito Control District thinks releasing the test tube insects will be more eco-friendly than pesticides, not everyone is convinced.

Since word got out, the agency has been fielding plenty of questions about the experiment. They recently held a town hall meeting on the issue.

Dozens of residents showed up.

"I definitely understand the concern of the residents, anything that is new, especially if it has the word 'genetic' in it. There's a lot of interest in that and a lot of concern of what it may or may not do," said Michael Doyle with the Keys Mosquito Control District.

Oxitec, the company that created the genetically modified mosquitoes, was on hand from the United Kingdom to explain the process.

The plan is to release modified male mosquitoes that are engineered so that any offspring he creates with females will die.

That mean fewer mosquitoes and a smaller chance of dengue fever.

But residents still had questions.

"What would happen if people were bit by them or what would happen if the various insects that eat mosquito larvae in the Keys? What the health reaction would be?" asked Daniel Mastracchio.

"We'll be releasing male mosquitoes and male mosquitoes don't bite, which is important only the females bite," said Luke Alphey with Oxitec.

The company has already released these mosquitoes in Brazil, Malaysia, and in the Cayman Islands.

The environmental group, Friends of the Earth, released an article late last year claiming Oxitec did not reveal the experiment to the public in the Cayman Islands until one month after the initial release.

Oxitec denies that, telling Local 10 that the planned release was published in the national newspaper, adding there have been no reports of negative consequences to either humans or the environment.

However, when the meeting was over, some residents still weren't happy.

"I think there's other alternatives. I don't think there's been enough studies done," said Mastracchio

"As a citizen and as a scientist, I just feel like the data that they do have is not enough," said Oliver Kofoid. 

Right now the release is on hold due to permitting issues. 

For updates, check the Keys Mosquito Control District website.

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