A pesticide is described as any substance that is used to kill, repel, or control a “pest”. Mosquitos are a pest that Floridians know very well. Around the world there are around 1,000,000 deaths each year from mosquito borne illness, with Malaria causing 219 million illnesses each year with more than 400,000 deaths! Those who have itched the summer away know they are a pest, but can mosquitos be a pesticide?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted a webinar discussing the approval of an experimental mosquito, that will act as a pesticide. For more background on this webinar and the process in general please see the announcement (https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/attend-epas-webinar-about-experimental-use-permit-oxitec-genetically-engineered-aedes) and the supporting documents about this new “pesticide” (https://www.regulations.gov/search?filter=EPA-HQ-OPP-2019-0274). Although some of the material is dense, it is fascinating to think about a pest being used as a pesticide.
How Does it Work?
How is the use of a mosquito for control any different than traditional bio control used in invasive species management? Traditional bio control uses a living organism to control a pest. Bio control differs from a biological pesticide in this case because bio control does not use an “active ingredient” to control that pest. Bio control relies upon the natural feeding behavior for control. The use of the Oxitec (OX5034) Aedes aegypti is different because it does not rely upon “natural feeding” or other means for control. This mosquito has an active ingredient in the form of a gene, and an inactive ingredient in the form of an internal dye. The dye is used to check population levels after the mosquitos have been released. So yes, this mosquito is a proper pesticide and is going through the registration process.
The way this technology is proposed to work is that male OX5034 mosquitos have a gene inserted that when passed to a female mosquito will ensure all female offspring die. Without supplemental tetracycline, which is an antibiotic, female mosquitos do not survive past the larval stage. However, male mosquitos will reach maturity and continue to pass on the lethal gene. It is important to control the females of this species as they are the only ones to bite humans. Even though it seems strange to release MORE mosquitos into the environment, they only release males, that will not bite. Aedes aegypti can carry yellow fever, chikungunya, and Zika, so management of this species is of critical importance.
Summary and Additional Information
So, the answer to the original question, can mosquitos be a pesticide is YES! Integrated pest management and creative solutions like using Aedes aegypti against itself help to ensure public health and safety from mosquito borne illness.
Some day in the future the buzz of a mosquito might just mean that a pesticide is in the air and going to work.
The mention of any products is not an endorsement of said product.
EPA Documents – https://www.regulations.gov/search?filter=EPA-HQ-OPP-2019-0274
UF EDIS on Mosquitos – https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/mosquitoes
UF Medical Entomology Laboratory – https://fmel.ifas.ufl.edu/
Genetically Modified Mosquitos – https://fmel.ifas.ufl.edu/general-information/gmm/#oxiteckwmcd