255 GE Mosquito Release in Florida
Turn. Welcome, talking biotech podcast, the weekly podcast about agriculture and medicine with an emphasis on biotechnology and the good things we can do for people and the planet. My Name's Kevin. FULDA. I'm a scientist podcast host professor and I'm very interested in making sure you understand the current issues in science. Now. One of the current issues is mosquito borne illness and some of the strategies that are being used to mitigate it mosquitoes kill more people on this planet than any other organism. People worry about shark attacks but mosquitoes kill millions and there's been new and exciting strategies to mitigate mosquito populations and help keep them under control. We've covered them previously on the PODCAST and one of those companies in the spotlight is oxy tech and we've done beautiful work in the past. And continue to work with designing mosquitoes that limit the size of mosquito populations meaning you introduce the first ones and they take down the populations of the rest. So today we're speaking with meredith fence him. She's the head of global. Public Affairs for Oxy Tek. Welcome to the podcast murder. Inky for the invitation. Yet. It's really timely. Isn't it? I had a number of people request you and they really wanted to hear more about what was happening at the keys. So I really wanted to provide a good solid piece of information that folks in the keys listen to to better understand how this works and and what the role of these mosquitoes really is. So from your perspective, what is currently the problem in Florida and what role do mosquitoes have in transmissible disease? Problem in Florida is one of geography. Florida is the tip of the spear for mosquito borne illnesses coming into the United States. And the role that mosquitoes have an transmissible disease is a big one. Mosquitoes are the world's deadliest animal by far and just to use an example, the eighties, Egypt diamonds Kito, which is the one that we've worked with the most today. It spreads Dean, a yellow fever, Zeka Chikungunya, and a host of other opponents. In Florida we certainly have had Zeka. I, understand we've had some chicken Guna and now I think we're seeing Deng. That's right. There is an outbreak of Ding gay in and around key Largo. Okay. So that's kind of the entry way to the keys. So people don't know the keys you go off the end of the tip of Florida and then keepdriving for three hours and its. Islands that are lease together by bridges. And we actually ran that from Miami to Key West was two hundred miles. It's a really beautiful place, really interesting place but a very narrow strip of a space that if you had a mosquito borne illness, you could conceivably understand how it could spread very quickly from point A. to Point B.. So I guess that's my. Big Concern. What is the current method that they're using to controlled mosquitoes in the keys? Various methods are being used right now to control mosquitoes in the keys, but the challenge is the traditional tools are failing D-. most mosquitoes and other insects have developed resistance to the insecticides that are are used. So the chemicals being sprayed but the the mosquitos. Many of them are surviving. What about the ecology of the keys I mean? This is kind of a fragile ecosystem does it make sense to be spraying? If you have alternative methods it it is a unique environment and. I think part of the the interest in the Florida keys approaching oxy tack ten years ago was was to protect that fragile ecosystem while at the same time on providing effective control of these disease spreading mosquitoes. I really wanted to give people the listener appreciation of what the keys are because there are unique deer. There are unique birds there's insects that are really unique to the keys or at least subspecies or very instead are keys. Only you know that are key specific the more you can limit insecticide, use the better, and even though these things can be used safely within limits to control mosquitoes. Why would we have it at all? If we had a good alternative and that's really high wanted to frame this today. Could you give us a little bit of a hint. On. What those other alternatives might be maybe just a touch on sterile insect technique what is that? Oh. To use the example of of our technology, we are using the mosquitoes against themselves. We release our male mosquitoes male mosquitoes do not bite. You've never been bitten by a male mosquito. And our male mosquitoes, non-binding meal mosquitoes carry a self-limiting teen and when they mate with the wild females, no female offspring survive. So, we achieve a reduction in the mosquito population that way without harming beneficial insects like ease other flies. Really is an extension of a really old technique. I mean they've been doing this for probably fifty years right? Like sterile insect technique. Trade it's been. It's been used in other insects as well. I mean, know I know that some of the radiation methods have not been successful with with mosquitoes it's been tried in the SEATAC approaches is is different. It's it's more precise. Yeah so just to give the listener, a little perspective, sterile insect technique with radiation was when you would just subject lots of mosquito larvae to damaging radiation where it would mess up their DNA enough where the next generation was infertile yet the males would go occupy females and females would occupy males and you would essentially dilute out all of the reproductively capable mosquitoes with these sterile. Radiation damaged insects and it worked and oxygen tech methods a little different that they have a a male that has a gene that in the laboratory you can turn off. So lethal gene, you turn it off in the laboratory as larvae, and then when they hatch and go out as adult males, they're fine but yet they passed that jeannot and so the next generation is. Not happening right limits in that way that's right and the second generation of this technology is even better because it's only the female offspring that do not survive. Then it's a really nice technology because it it doesn't drive the population to zero. It just drives it low. So it doesn't ultimately change things completely, it just stops in imminent threat during a disease outbreak. And could could you tell me a little bit about how this has performed in its general trials all around the world We've done releases of the SEATAC. Mosquitoes throughout the world and we've been releasing are mosquitoes in Brazil for about a decade in Brazil we've six. We've continuously achieved suppression wobbles of eighty percent or better, and in some of our more recent pilot projects, we had suppression levels of about ninety five percent in just a number of weeks, and it's really amazing how fast it works and how well it works. But what about the natural ecosystems around? I mean there's a lot of bats and you know purple Martins and all these other birds that like mosquitoes as a part of their diet. So how much does knocking down a population in a big way affect those natural resources? A mosquito like the Egypt die in Florida is an invasive species. So if you remove it from the environment, you are returning the environment to its natural state and nurse shouldn't be animals that at depend on it on the recent approval that we received from the Florida keys mosquito control district or two commissioners comes after the US environmental protection agency US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and seven state of Florida government agencies. EXP- approved our permit and this followed exhaustive regulatory assessments that included. More than seventy scientific and technical documents. Over four thousand pages of material and more than twenty commission scientific studies, and they found that oxy tax technology poses no risk to humans, animals or the environment including endangered species. While that's really important and I don't think that the public understands that when they read the articles on the Internet, I'm really glad we clarified data and we'll come back on the other side of the break and talk about. What currently is happening in Florida and how they'll be released we're talking with Meredith Vansem. She's the head of Global Public Affairs for Oxy Tech and we'll be back with the talking biotech todd cast in just a moment. I everybody. This is Kevin Fulda and have something that I need you to do. We have an opportunity to solve a major ecological problems. The American chestnut used to dominate forest eastern US comprising something like twenty five percent of all standing timber. In one, thousand, nine, hundred, four, parasitic fungus entered the country and eventually all but destroyed this iconic tree species. There is a solution using genetic engineering. Dr. Bill. Powell. His land developed an American chestnut tree that expresses a gene that helps to combat the fungus. You might have heard about this back in talking biotech number ten. His goal is to start to restore the natural ecology of the APPALACHIANS. And he submitted a petition non regulated status for the genetically engineered trees. Now. What that means is the trees can be planted outside without a lot of onerous regulation allowing this perfectly natural gene to be back in the ecosystem defeating fungus. But we need your help. Right now there's a public comment period that regulators take very seriously. So please visit Regulations Dot Gov in search with the term chestnut. You'll find the petition. Read the instructions and write a thoughtful response in your feelings about restoring the ecology and the dominance of this keystone for species. Dr Paul's Group has done the hard work. And we know the tree is resistant and we know it's safe. Now, we need your help to ensure its deployment in another success of biotechnology. And now we're back on the talking biotech podcast. We're speaking with Meredith, fence him from Oxy Tech, and we're talking about the impending release of mosquitoes in Florida, genetically engineered mosquitoes that are made to be self limiting meaning that once they made they don't produce viable offspring and we're talking about some of the pros and cons, risks and benefits, and what exactly is going to happen in Florida very soon. So You know the thing I keep reading as the staggering numbers and people keep These on my feed and in on twitter like full to hey, they're gonna let go you. Jillian mosquitoes. The number was something like seven, hundred, fifty million, which seems like a lot of -squitoes. But could you give me a little perspective on what the scope of this release realistically entails? Sure. The EPA has given a maximum release number, which is what the seven hundred and fifty million mosquitoes refers to. In reality, the number released will be far lower and will be based on the number of wild eighties. Chip die mosquitoes. Found in the release areas. Cool. So he kind of calibrated to the past itself. Exactly. Yeah. So so this is the the feeling you get from the press from the opponents of this technology is that this is just a big wrecking ball that you're just going to release everything it's going to go everywhere. But if you go into an area and Knesset population, then you know exactly how many you need to release to control it is do I have that right? That's right. In reality our technology is very precise. Okay. So you recently received approval from the Florida keys McKee Mosquito Control district. It seems like that's been in the works for a long time. Can you tell me a little bit about how long it took to get that approval? Sure the interesting thing is acsi tack was originally invited to the Florida keys by the Florida keys mosquito control district about a decade ago and the Swiss following a dean gay outbreak mostly centered around Key West that was difficult to control. I believe all of the members of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District Board have have changed since then, but we came to the Florida keys on their invitation, and after about a decade once we had all of our regulatory approvals in place their their board approved our project. And what were some of the other regulatory hurdles she talked about the EPA and other organizations you had to get regulatory approval from Who are they? oxy Tech solutions are very innovative and sometimes regulatory agencies. Don't know how they should treat technologies that they have not seen before. Our Technology was originally submitted to the US. Department of Agriculture and after a year or two, they issued either finding letter of no jurisdiction. Were then with the FDA. The US Food and Drug Administration being regulated as an animal drug I. believe that was for about six or seven years including during heart of Zeke outbreak in the united. States. And the FDA then transferred our jurisdiction to the US Environmental Protection Agency? So the EPA. and. We received approval from the US EPA this May. And after that, we received authorization from F- Tax in Florida the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and that authorization included approvals from step seven state of Florida agencies including Department of Health. Department, of environmental. Protection and others. And I think that's really how it should go when you look at this carefully scientifically, it really is a no brainer. It really is something that seems so simple. But you know we have this issue of people live in the keys, and if it's like any other topic in this country, you probably have forty eight percent that love it and forty eight percent who hate it in four percent that just don't know and probably a lot higher on that don't know number. But what has been the local response to the oxy technology? In Two thousand and sixteen, there was a referendum in the Florida keys about our project and in that referendum thirty, one out of thirty three Monroe County precincts supported the the project. So so there's a lot of support for the project in the Florida. Keys. Really you now that that really seems surprising to me based on how I know people are. So by having. Very. Positive Response in the Florida keys does it mean that you had a good communications front to kind of fill them in this is what this isn't. We like to we like to think. So that is certainly been our intent and oxy tack is US owned by is still UK based oxy tack is is a spin out from Oxford University. In. Believe it or not architects spun out of Oxford almost twenty years ago. But. Yes. Despite having most of oxy tax team members in the United Kingdom in the early days, there was a fairly constant presence of of members of the Tech Team in the Florida keys throughout the last decade and I spent a lot of time there in person until covid head. And now we've had to adjust our strategy and one of the things that that we did leading up to the recent vote of the Florida keys mosquito control district or two commissioners was host a five series public educational Webinar with with the Florida keys mosquito control a strike to end every week we were online presenting information and giving residents an opportunity to to ask questions and have their questions answered. And we've made all of those recordings available on our website Youtube Channel, and we've published on fact sheets after the events that include summary of what was disguised, and all the questions asked are answers provided and links to external resources on super doing things like that were very active on social media we go on the radio in the keys we we use the print media in the keys. Sometimes, we are interviewed for articles. Sometimes we we we place advertisements to let the public know about different webinars and other informational opportunities that were offering. Because that's what the big companies didn't do back in the nineteen ninety s when they were releasing genetically engineered corn and cotton. We've learned something maybe over the years but the enemies of this technology or I should say the critics I guess they really are enemies of technology because it's like the center of food safety. These aren't food. No one's GonNa eat the mosquitoes yet. A group of folks and it's nine in a we we know them by name they are the ones who are most vocal about the release and most critical of the release, and they're using the same arguments that they used against crops twenty years ago that never panned out. and. How do you combat that kind of rhetoric? To. Be. The cornerstone of so many social media campaigns. Groups that are saying those things are are not basing their assertions on on science. oxy Tack has carried out a decade of mosquito releases without a single adverse effect and this has been documented by regulators and independent scientists worldwide. Yeah I know that and I'm with you. But it just seems like the way that you gotTa beat these people as by saying you know you're in the solve a problem of human disease transmission. In and you got a tool that does it end. You know all the details in the world are never going to shift their their mind but the fact that you're in this for the right reason in on and this is why this kind of thing drives me crazy they're over here screaming, Jurassic? Park. Where really what you're doing what you're doing is providing a means to limit the vector of human. Disease. And eliminate insecticide or severely decrease insecticide use. This has all the positive trappings upon it and it. It's all there in my brain. Anyway one of the other criticisms is been and I read this on an article today is that The said article seriously said scientists in I'm putting air quotes on that have raised major concerns about hybrids between oxy tech, mosquito, native species making some ultra resistance super mosquito. This is stuff from the gamut of movies. How is that not likely to happen? So some of the background genes of the OXYDE had meal mosquito are expected to persist in the wild population for very short period of time after the end of the releases but according to the federal and state regulators an independent scientists at the CD seeing these background jeans, Ramada expected to make the wild mosquito population any different in terms of fitness or ability to transmit diseases. And in addition are expected to to make the wild population more susceptible to insecticides. So that's a good thing There was a paper claiming that transfer of these type of background genes could make the wild mosquito population more more dangerous. It has been widely discredited and the editors of the Journal which published the paper have. An editorial expression of concern indicating that the paper's authors meter a range of inflammatory speculations and unfounded statements which were not based on scientific facts. No very good at that refers to a paper that came out in scientific reports maybe about a year ago, and we actually covered on this podcast because they were claiming in the paper that there was evidence of gene flow but you would expect that that means that they're meeting with natural populations in suppressing the populations. So I'm not sure that this was a big red flag especially because as you mentioned after a few generations, those genes were gone. So, if people wanted the follow this more on social media or you know anywhere else, where would they look? Our Florida keys project. Specifically we've set up Florida page on our website and that's oxy tack. Dot Com forward slash Florida and for General Oxy, tack information you can see the oxy tat website We also have channels on twitter facebook Lincoln Youtube. And our result counterparts mirror the sites in Portuguese. Very. Good and I should mention oxy tax spelled with a C. No H. 'cause I always put its nature on there and. Takes. Me a takes me to some other website that I don't WanNa talk about, but the Lxi T. E. C. is the right way to do that. And that was an acronym. It still has for Oxford insect technology. That's how it started. It also should be mentioned that you know you guys are not a one trick pony it's not just the mosquitoes you've also been making progress towards are actually have released the diamondback moth and the self limiting fall armyworm right are those projects moving along? We have released most. self-limiting Pink Bollworm and diamondback loss and the United States, and we've released other self-limiting and sacks for agricultural pass in in other countries including the medfly. Really. Great. Yes. So if you if you. If I, get a package of self limiting all armyworm larvae in the mail I wouldn't be wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. We've got really bad right now it's another one that we've covered on the podcast and. A certainly a threat to the African continent especially. Some of the poorest areas in the world could be hit or are being especially hard by Paul armyworm is devastating. Look forward to your developments there as. Well. Thank you very much for joining me on the podcast today I really appreciate learning more about the -squitoes release in Florida hopefully we provided some answers and resources for people that Richard Thank you very much. And as always, thank you for listening to the talkng biotech podcasts. Great reviews on itunes all that stuff. Show us a little over on the Patriots. We really appreciate sport does it helps us do more with getting more listenership which really is working. So. Thank you very much for listening. Thank you for listening to the talk in biotech podcast and we'll talk again next week. Talking I, over awed cow reflects the personal view of. The dowse Are Not the views of the University of Florida Faculty Staff Or. Students. 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