There’s been a lot of news lately about risky genetically engineered animals in the queue for federal review. British biotechnology firm Oxitec continues to pursue permission to release its genetically engineered mosquitoes into the Florida Keys in what would be the first release of these engineered bugs into the wild in the U.S. Meanwhile, AquaBounty is assuring its shareholders that it is “confident that the FDA is advancing towards approval” on its application to sell unlabeled genetically engineered salmon to U.S. consumers. If approved, this “frankenfish” would be the first genetically engineered animal approved by the U.S. government for human consumption.
Oxitec’s planned scenario for its genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys has been compared to “the opening chapter of a Michael Crichton novel.” The analogy seems apt: in order to eliminate the threat of dengue fever (of which there wasn’t a single case in the Keys last year), Oxitec plans to release millions of modified male mosquitoes that will disseminate self-destructing genes and kill off disease-spreading bugs before adulthood — and therefore before they can bite people.
Local residents and environmental groups have understandably been skeptical toward this approach. Last month, a coalition of concerned groups sent Florida Governor Rick Scott a letter detailing their concerns. In it, they note Oxitec’s checkered history of releasing genetically engineered insects around the world without proper study of their environmental or health impacts and emphasize their refusal to be “Oxitec’s next guinea pigs.”