The insects, which have been bred by British-based biotechnology company Oxitec, have been designed to help reduce the mosquito population in the state and in so doing, reduce the risk of spreading deadly diseases such as West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis.
The key to the experiment lies in having the mosquitoes carry a certain protein which, when passed down to female offspring, will prove lethal. Only female mosquitoes actually bite, so by selectively reducing their numbers, scientists hope that the spread of disease will be massively reduced too.
Both the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida department of agriculture and consumer services have given the green light for scientists to proceed with the release of 750 million genetically modified insects in the Florida Keys, however conservation groups argue that the environmental impact of the scheme has not been properly assessed.
Describing the move as a “Jurassic Park experiment”, opponents of the scheme now intend to sue the EPA and argue that it could do serious damage to other species in the state.