Mutant mosquito swarms could soon be invading Key West if a plan by a British company to use the mutants to ward off the native mosquito population goes through.
The company, Oxitec, plans to release between 5,000 and 10,000 of the genetically altered mosquitoes, which are designed to produce offspring that die quickly and would suppress cases of Dengue fever in the area.
Dengue is a disease that produces flu-like symptoms and can be fatal. There was an outbreak of the fever in Old Town Key West in 2009, though no new cases have been reported since 2010.
Key West residents aren’t too happy about the mutant mosquito swarms that could be invading their community, The Christian Post reported. More than 103,000 people have signed a petition started by a Key West resident calling on Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Chairman of the Florida Keys Mosquito Board of Commission (yes, that’s a real thing) to stop the plan. The residents are afraid that mutant mosquito swarms could mutate and throw off the fragile ecosystem there or even harm humans.
“The Florida Keys is a beautiful place, and it’s my home,” Mila de Mier, the resident who started the petition, told Orlando’s WKMG-TV Local 6. “We won’t be lab rats just so this company can make money. Oxitec says we have to do this to control mosquitoes, but it’s just not true. Other methods of mosquito control are working. We don’t need to gamble with mutant mosquitoes.”
The petition, which asks the FDA to reject the “animal bug” patent Oxitec has applied for, has gone viral in recent days. Many of the signatures against the mutant mosquito are coming from outside of Key West, and it has gotten attention from across the nation.
“The whole country, not just our local community, is sending a very strong message: It’s not OK to use people as an experiment,” de Mier told the Florida Keys Keynoter.
Oxitec has said that the mutant mosquito is safe and that insects released would be males, which do not bite and therefore can’t spread disease.