A plan to set loose 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida and Texas will move forward despite concerns from environmentalists who liken it to a "Jurassic Park experiment." The non-biting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes developed by British biotechnology company Oxitec contain a protein, passed to biting female offspring, that is designed to reduce the insect's chance of surviving into adulthood and therefore prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases including Zika and West Nile, reports the Guardian. The EPA has approved two trials, in which the mosquitoes are to be released in Florida's Monroe County this summer and in Texas' Harris County in 2021, though it's facing a lawsuit over its alleged failure to investigate the environmental impact, per the Hill. Facing similar complaints, Florida nonetheless approved its trial on Tuesday.
Opponents gathered outside the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which still must sign off on the release of the bugs as the "last hurdle" in the state plan, reports CNN. "People here in Florida do not consent to the genetically engineered mosquitoes or to being human experiments," said Barry Wray of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, which is among the groups suing the EPA, per the Guardian. But the EPA maintains there is no risk to the public or to threatened species because male mosquitoes don't bite. It adds Oxitec is required to "monitor and sample the mosquito population weekly" during the two-year trial, which can be canceled "if unforeseen outcomes occur." Oxitec already claims a successful trial in an area of Brazil. It says its insects reduced the Aedes aegypti mosquito population by 95% in that area in just 13 weeks, per Cornell's Alliance for Science. (More mosquito stories.)