California's first genetically modified mosquitoes may soon be released

How would you feel about a few genetically engineered mosquitoes flying into your neighborhood? 

It's a possibility after the US Environmental Protection Agency on Friday approved pilot projects of Oxitec's mosquitoes in specific districts in California and Florida. 

The next step is for applications to be submitted to state regulators, who must approve the project for it to move forward.

The California pilot project is being planned in partnership with the Delta Mosquito and Vector Control District in Tulare County.

According to the EPA, its evaluation process included a 30-day period for public comments which were reviewed and responded to before issuing its approval.

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"Oxitec’s safe, sustainable and targeted biological pest control technology does not harm beneficial insects like bees and butterflies and is proven to control the disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has invaded communities in Florida, California and other U.S. states. In California, since first being detected in 2013, this mosquito has rapidly spread to more than 20 counties throughout the state, increasing the risk of transmission of dengue, chikungunya, Zika, yellow fever and other diseases," the EPA said in a statement.

A research application to release the genetically engineered mosquitoes into Tulare County was sent to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation on March 10. Now, scientists are reviewing whether this may involve a hazard to people working in certain fields, such as those working in public health or field workers.

DPR anticipates the review to take several months. 

DPR said Oxitec anticipates releasing 5,000 to 30,000 mosquitoes per week. 

Some restrictions in the EPA permit include releasing the mosquitoes at least 1,640 feet away from the outer perimeter of certain areas including wastewater treatment facilities; commercial citrus, apple, pear, nectarine, and peach crops; and commercial cattle, poultry, and pig livestock facilities.

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