On April 29, a Facebook account “ბოლო ჟამის ქრისტიანები“ (Christians of Apocalypse) disseminated a post, titled “He is destroying a creature of God”. The post claims that Oxitec, a company in Florida, will release 750 million genetically modified male mosquitoes with the funding of Bill Gates. The new male mosquitoes would then destroy the female mosquitoes, that are able to bite people. However, a new, hybrid mosquito would likely be created in the process. The post mentions a study by Nature Scientific Reports and claims that, according to the study, an analogous experiment in Brazil produced new and stronger genetically modified mosquitoes.
The post by “Christians of Apocalypse” contains disinformative claims. Oxitec receives the funding from Bill Gates to destroy anopheles, a genus of malaria-spreading mosquito. Oxitec’s project targets Aedes aegypti – the mosquito that can spread Zika and dengue fevers. Oxitec launched this project after an order by the local government. In 2016, it received the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization and in 2020 – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authorization. The Nature Scientific Reports article, mentioned by the “Christians of Apocalypse”, does not claim that Oxitec’s technology produced stronger and more resilient mosquitoes in Brazil.
Aedes aegypti, infection-spreading (including Zika and dengue fevers) mosquitoes, have become a problem in the last several years on the Florida Keys archipelago.
Dengue fever has been increasingly spreading in the Florida Keys cities since 2009. Until 2009, the last case of this infection in Florida was recorded in 1934. Besides dengue fever, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread ZIka virus too, which has become an especially big problem for pregnant women around the world in 2016. It was the mosquitoes that spread the infection in Florida and Texas.
The Government of the Florida Keys asked Oxitec for a protection against Aedes aegypti back in 2012. From this type of mosquitoes, only the female ones can bite and, therefore, transmit the virus. Although this type of mosquito only accounts for 1% of the entire mosquito population, the local government spends annually more than USD 1 million to fight it. According to Oxitec’s plan, a genetically modified male version of Aedes aegypti – OX5034 – has been created. The new type of mosquito transmits the deadly gene to females, causing a decrease in the number of the virus-spreading mosquitoes and hence, a gradual decrease in the spread of the virus.
In 2016, in relation to Oxicet’s technology, the FDA determined that the release of the male mosquitoes in the environment would not have a negative impact. After the FDA, the EPA started the review of the given technology. The EPA gave the green light to Oxitec’s technology in May 2020 and determined that releasing the new type of mosquitos would be safe and would not endanger the environment.
The project by Oxitec and the local government sparked protests. However, according to both the company and the government, the process only has benefits, whereas the possible risks and benefits have been studied for years by regulatory bodies and the authorization was only given after that –pointing towards the safety of the project.
- Bill Gates is not funding Oxitec’s project aiming to release the genetically modified Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes in Florida.
According to the Insider, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the British biotechnology company Oxitec to create the genetically modified category of virus-spreading mosquitoes with the aim of curbing the spread of malaria. According to the edition, the Foundation paid USD 5 million to Oxitec in 2010. Currently, the website of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation includes information about awarding Oxitec with USD 1,377,280 for a 12-month project to beat malaria. It is important to point out that malaria is spread by anopheles, while Oxitec is working on exterminating female Aedes aegypti in Florida. Aedes aegypti do not spread malaria – they spread several other diseases such as Zika and denge fevers.
- The article, published in the Nature Scientific Reports, was met with harsh scientific criticism. It does not claim that a stronger, newer type of mosquitoes appeared in Brazil after using Oxitec’s technology.
Oxitec’s technology was first used to exterminate female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Brazil. According to the company, the population of the mosquitoes decreased by 95% within 13 weeks. The number of infections decreased too. The post by the “Christians of Apocalypse” mentions the article which is precisely about the Brazilian case. It got published in the Nature Scientific Reports by the scientists from Yale University in 2019. According to the “Christians of Apocalypse”, the genetically modified mosquitoes produced a newer species of more resilient, hybrid insects. In fact, the article mentions that, according to the authors’ observation, after releasing the genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in one of the regions of Brazil, a completely new, third type of mosquitoes appeared, as this new category received new genes from the genetically modified mosquitoes. However, unlike the “Christians of Apocalypse”, the researchers do not claim that this new category is in any way stronger.
It is also noteworthy that after the articles was published in the journal, the editorial board published a letter of concern about it. The criticism also touched upon the claims about the origin of the new category of mosquitoes. According to the editorial board, sampling for this study was not conducted more than a few weeks after the release program, providing no evidence to establish whether the non-transgenic, introgressed sequences from the released strain remained in the population over time. The letter also points out that other studies of one of the authors confirmed that this new, third category of mosquitoes would disappear in a long-term perspective. Five out of the ten authors of the article agreed with the criticism.
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