Q&A of the Day – Should Florida consider altering iguana DNA?

Q&A of the Day – Should Florida consider altering iguana DNA?

Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

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Today’s entry: In the book “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan, the author writes about how research and work has been done to control unwanted carp in the United States lakes and waterways by altering the DNA of the females to lay daughterless carp eggs.

After reading this book I emailed and talked personally with Dr. Rex Dunham at Auburn University, who worked on the carp problem regarding the possibility of researching the altering of the eggs of the iguanas. His response was --

I am not an expert on iguana sex determination, but I think this approach is tremendously promising. Someone should explore this for iguanas and especially rock pythons.


1. Form a South Florida coalition of State representatives

2. Request the State to appropriate funds to control iguanas

3. Request for appropriation of funds to be in two phases (A) First phase would fund an exploratory team to ascertain the possibility and probability that altering the DNA of the female will control the spread of iguanas (B) If the probability of success is within an acceptable range then additional funds would be released to do the scientific research and implementation of a plan for controlling the iguanas

Bottom Line: Two thoughts come to mind when thinking about the implications/potential validity in altering iguana DNA. Mosquitoes and Jurassic Park. I’ll start with the mosquitoes and explain how it relates to your proposal. You might recall the momentum behind genetically modified mosquitoes in South Florida a few years ago. Based on modifications made to mosquitoes by the British company Oxitec, only male mosquitoes would be born. Males don’t bite and without females to reproduce, the mosquito populations would die off. Good in theory and in initial experiments. After lab testing the first real-world tests took place in the Cayman Islands. Initial reports were favorable with mosquito populations reported to be in decline. The results were so encouraging numerous governments began to consider testing the genetically modified mosquitoes,this included Brazil even South Florida officials like the Monroe County Mosquito Control District. Their interest was strong enough that a county wide vote took place to consider using the mosquitoes. It passed, though the key targeted for testing, Key Haven, rejected the proposal. Anyway, the reason the momentum behind the use of these mosquitoes has stalled in South Florida over the past couple of years is what’s happened overtime in the originally tested areas – especially in Brazil. 

After initial positive results with reported declines in mosquito populations, there was a wrinkle. The genetically modified species began mating with other species of insects/mosquitoes. Not only did the mosquitoes find mates. The result was what some scientists refer to as a “super-mosquito”. The new breed of mosquitoes is reportedly more energetic and resilient than the original mosquitoes. The problem has grown to be worse than before in Brazil as traditional mosquito control methods aren’t as effective against the new breed. That’s where the Jurassic Park reference comes into play. This is a real-world example of life finding a way. 

Now, iguanas are obviously a lot different than mosquitoes – so maybe it’d be different? But maybe it wouldn’t. With numerous species of lizards roaming South Florida – there's no telling what might occur until we get there. Genetically modified species have always concerned me because none of us created life on this planet and we don’t know what will happen with modifications we make until we get there. A “super-mosquito” is bad. I don’t know if we’d have a “super-iguana” but if we did, something tells me that’d be worse. Be mindful that this planet has experienced multiple mass extinction events and yet, life finds a way. 

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