Eliminating a disease-spreading mosquito in Houston might imply thousands and thousands extra can be launched into the realm
From Texas Standard:
Mosquitoes are not popular in southeast Texas. So it’s strange that biotech company Oxitec is planning to release millions of them in Harris County.
Gabriel Hamer, associate professor of entomology at Texas A&M University, says the company plans to do so with the aim of reducing the number of mosquitoes in the area.
“They have what they think is a self-limiting gene – these males would mate with wild females and the offspring would be less fit or unable to live as long,” Hamer told Texas Standard. “Ultimately, their population should go down.
He said the Environmental Protection Agency approved Oxitec’s release of 750 million genetically modified male mosquitoes in the Houston area. Oxitec also plans to release them in the Florida Keys. Both mosquito releases have yet to be approved by local authorities.
The company targets the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a species that is less common in Harris County than the over 80 other species of mosquito in Texas, according to Hamer. Hamer said Aedes aegypti was somewhat “artificial” – the kind that is suitable for thriving in urban settings and that doesn’t play that big a role in local ecology. This is unlike other species that are important pollinators and food for bats.
“If we were to eliminate or exterminate Aedes aegypti from Harris County, for example, it would be difficult to find negative costs for it,” Hamer said.
Hamer admitted that there are still many unknowns in this type of mosquito control. But it was successfully carried out in other counties. That is a sign, he said, that things could be successful here too.
“There is a priority for Oxitec that has evidence that it could work in other locations, so this is not a complete first experiment,” Hamer said.
It could also be a better alternative to other forms of mosquito control such as the adulticide, which Hamer said can kill beneficial insects in addition to the Aeges aegypti mosquito.