April 20, 2017
Florida Tests Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes To Kill Off Bugs
By Jennifer Kay
Miami Beach, FL (AP) -- Thousands of bacteria-infected mosquitoes were released in the wild Tuesday near Key West, testing a new way to kill mosquitoes that carry Zika and other viruses.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District released 20,000 male mosquitoes infected by the Kentucky-based company MosquitoMate with naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria.
The offspring produced when the lab-bred mosquitoes mate with wild female mosquitoes won’t survive to adulthood. Male mosquitoes don’t bite, and Wolbachia is not harmful to humans.
“The eggs never even hatch,” said Stephen Dobson, MosquitoMate’s founder.
The infected mosquitoes were flown in cardboard tubes - similar to ones used in paper towel rolls - from Lexington, Kentucky, to Key West on Tuesday morning. At the Stock Island test site, about 25 acres with residential and commercial properties just north of Key West, district staff released them by shaking or blowing into the tubes, said Andrea Leal, the district’s executive director.
“They liked the humidity,” Leal said. “They were very happy mosquitoes.”
The trial is expected to last about three months, with twice-weekly releases. Seven Wolbachia-infected males should be released for every one wild male in the field to drive down the mosquito population, Dobson said.
Aedes aegypti - mosquito
The district has been exploring new ways to suppress Aedes aegypti mosquito populations, which thrive in urban environments and spread Zika, dengue fever and chikungunya.
The Keys trial is MosquitoMate’s second U.S. test with Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, after a similar trial in Clovis, California, last year. Stock Island is about 130 miles southwest of Miami, where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were blamed for spreading the Zika virus last year.
Keys officials are still considering a separate test of mosquitoes genetically modified by the British biotech firm Oxitec to produce Aedes aegypti offspring that die outside a lab. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration initially approved a trial in a residential neighborhood near Key West, saying the test would not significantly affect the environment, but outrage from anti-GMO activists and residents forced the district to find a new location.
“We’re looking at these sterile insect techniques because our conventional mosquito control methods are costly and labor-intensive,” Leal said.
MosquitoMate is awaiting permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sell a related mosquito species, known as the “Asian tiger mosquito,” infected with Wolbachia as a pest control service. Though these mosquitoes also can carry viruses, experts consider them less of a threat for triggering outbreaks than Aedes aegypti.
The FDA is seeking public comment on a proposal clarifying which mosquito-related products it regulates and which ones would be regulated by the EPA.
Currently, genetically engineering mosquitoes, as Oxitec does, is regulated by the FDA, while modifying mosquitoes through other techniques, such as MosquitoMate’s bacteria, fall under the EPA as pesticides.
According to the FDA proposal, the EPA would regulate any mosquito-related products controlling mosquito populations, while the FDA would regulate products making other claims, such as preventing disease.
Oxitec has publicly supported regulatory changes that would expedite review of its mosquitoes “in light of the ongoing Zika-related public health emergency.” It has asked both agencies to clarify how marketing claims would differentiate between suppressing mosquito populations and stopping diseases, “particularly where the vector control product is pesticidal in its action to suppress mosquitoes that transmit human disease.”
Dobson said he hopes the regulatory issues will be resolved quickly, so that mosquito controllers will have more tools to keep the viruses carried by invasive mosquito species from spreading, and more flexibility to address the public’s concerns about human health.
“It might be in some places that people will say, ‘We don’t want Wolbachia,’ or they’ll say, ‘We don’t want GMO,’ or they’ll say, ‘We don’t want planes spraying overhead,’” Dobson said.
A Man With A Plan: Quits His Job To Hike Appalachian Trail
By Katie Poe
Fort Payne, AL (AP) - After quitting his job of seven years, Neil Johnson will pursue his dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail this month.
Johnson began his journey on April 10 at Springer Mountain in Georgia, which is located in Amicalola Falls State Park, and will trek a total of 2,189.2 miles to end up on Mount Catahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine.
He said his wife, Erica, will pick him up from there, but before that she will hike the last 5 miles with him.
Johnson has spent many months researching and planning out the journey. He estimates it will take him between 98 and 101 days to finish.
``My target is July 25, but I’m going to give myself a little bit of wiggle room,’’ he said.
The Appalachian Trail has been in Johnson’s mind ever since he was young and went rafting with his father, but it didn’t occur to him at that time that he would ever attempt to hike it.
``My dad would always take us rafting at the Nantahala River in North Carolina, and the Appalachian Trail goes across the river,’’ he said. ``We would always go with some family friends, and I just remember them talking about the trail, but I didn’t know what it was. They just told me it went from Georgia to Maine and that’s all I knew.’’
He said a couple of years later when he started backpacking, he and his high school friends, Jarrod and Shaun Lawler, would go to places like Citadel Rock and DeSoto State Park to spend their summers.
The Appalachian Trail
``Jarrod would always talk about (the Appalachian Trail), and I got to researching it and it got my brain rolling,’’ Johnson said. ``Six or seven years ago, I just decided it was something I wanted to do. It’s pretty much the only consistent dream I’ve ever really had.
``It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I love the atmosphere, and I’ve been on the trail several times to practice. I just love the atmosphere of the Appalachian Trail, it’s the country and just makes me feel good about living here in the South.’’
Two years ago, Johnson wanted to pursue this dream, but with his son, Harrison, only being 6 months old at the time, he decided to postpone it.
``I was going to do it two years ago, but it was bad timing,’’ he said. ``Harrison would have been about 6 months old, so he wouldn’t have remembered it, but I would have missed a lot.’’
It was actually Johnson’s wife who proposed that he do the trail this year.
``My wife came to me at the beginning of this year and she knew I’d always wanted to do it, and I felt like it was a good time,’’ he said. ``I’m not getting any younger. Harrison, my son, is at an age where he’ll miss me, but it’s not going to be horrible for him. It’s just the right time. It’s a good change in my life to turn things around a little bit.’’
He has gotten support from his family members and friends, but he said his wife has been the most supportive one throughout the process.
``Of course, my mom was thinking of the worst, because she’s my mom. But, overall I got positive reactions from it,’’ he said. ``My sister was proud of me, my dad was proud of me. My mom was just being a worrisome mom. Once I showed her that I had everything organized, it made her feel better.’’
Johnson had been working at RTI for seven years and worked his way up to assistant manager over the Assembly Department. But, once he decided to go on the trail for four months, he had to step down.
``It’s not like I hated my job, I mean, I loved my job for the most part. It’s just that I’m ready for a change,’’ Johnson said. ``I’m using this as a changing point for what I want to do going forward. I’ve been working at RTI for seven years. I’ve never known what I really wanted to do. A lot of my friends know what they want to do. I’ve got a friend that’s just graduated college and he knows what he wants to do and Shaun and Jarrod are in the military right now.’’
Johnson said he has been consistently hiking to prepare for this specific trail for about three months. He said he has been walking with more weight and attempting to hike for longer distances since his goal is to walk about 25 miles a day.
When he is on the trail, Johnson will sleep in a tent and pack about three to five days worth of food at a time.
``I’ll wake up and pack up all my stuff. I’ll be sleeping in my tent 99 percent of the time,’’ he said. ``There are shelters spread out; they are more like primitive shelters. My goal is to hike anywhere from 20 to 25 miles a day and pretty much hike 12 hours a day. I’ll stop, eat, and I’ll camp out beside the trail.’’
Johnson said when hikers are on the trail, they are given a ``trail name.’’ He said if something ``crazy’’ happens, someone will give you a nickname, or you can choose one for yourself. Johnson said he wants to take his chances and let someone name him.
He said the thing he is going to miss the most is his family, but cravings for a hamburger might come into play.
``Probably my family will be the only thing I’ll miss pretty bad. I don’t watch a lot of TV or anything anyway,’’ he said. ``I’m not going to lie, when I hiked in the Smokies portion of the Appalachian Trail about four years ago, I remember finishing it up and the first time I saw a truck after four days just tickled me, I don’t know how to explain. I just laughed. It was weird. I had a burger after that and it was the best burger I ever had in my life.’’
However, that feeling of serenity and disconnectedness he gets when he is alone in the wilderness allows Johnson to get away from the stress of living a busy life.
``It’s a pretty good feeling, you feel like you don’t have a whole lot of stress and unnecessary stuff,’’ he said. ``When you’re at home you have the temptation to watch Netflix or get on your phone. There’s something constantly going, but when you’re out there, everything just shuts down.’’
A few weeks ago, Johnson went for a training hike at DeSoto State Park and he was listening to music on Pandora, but after a while he lost cell phone signal. When the music stopped, he stood still and tried to listen, but everything was silent.
``The world keeps going, but in your little bubble time is just irrelevant and you’ve got nothing better to do than keep walking,’’ he said.
During his journey, Johnson will vlog his experience through YouTube. He will film one or two days at a time and upload it when he gets a chance. To watch his ``AT Thru Hike Announcement,’’ visit bit.ly/2oRqS7a.