Mutant mosquitoes may be our best line of defense against the world's most deadly viruses. Faced with Zika, dengue fever, and other mosquito-borne illnesses, the U.S. and other nations are considering using mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to kill their own species by producing non-viable offspring. In the U.S., a project to release such mosquitoes in the Florida Keys just received the FDA's green light .
But Oxitec, the British biotech company behind the Frankenskeeters, doesn't just envision making its technology available to governments—it wants to make its mosquitoes available to you. Rather than constantly putting on bug spray, you'd buy genetic mutants to deal with the mosquito problem in your backyard.
In the course of reporting an extensive story on Oxitec's technology and why it just might work, CEO Haydn Parry outlined for me his vision for the company in the future.
First, Oxitec wants to gain commercial approval for its mosquitoes, in the U.S., Brazil, India and other places where it has projects in the works. This would make it easily available to any city that wants self-destructing mosquitoes to fight a local mosquito problem.
And eventually, Parry told me, the company hopes to court consumers. Oxitec, he said, might sell its genetically modified mosquitoes at the garden store, competing with citronella candles as a way to prevent bites in your yard.
“I can send you eggs and you can protect your own biosphere,” he told me.
In Parry's imagining, dried out mosquito eggs would be sold right alongside the lady bugs you can purchase to ward off aphids, ready to be hatched in under an hour in just a little bit of water. But first the company needs the world to be comfortable with the release of GMOs that fly.