Science

Florida Keys Okays Testing Of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes To Combat Zika

By Christie Abagon , Nov 22, 2016 12:41 AM EST
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For several months now, the state of Florida struggled to control the spread of Zika.  One of the most controversial items on the ballot in Florida Keys on the November 8th election was dealing with disease.  In a 3-2 vote on Saturday, residents in the Florida Keys approved a measure allowing a British company to begin a trial release of genetically modified mosquitoes.  These are designed to curb the spread of infectious diseases, such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya.

Key Haven Residents Are Fearful Of The Consequences Of The Trial

Residents from Key Haven said that they don't want to be used as "guinea pigs" and fear unintentional environmental consequences.  Others fear being bitten by engineered blood-suckers.  However, the FDA and other federal and local regulators say the concerns are unfounded.  Trials will not be conducted in Key Haven because the residents rejected it.  Oxitec and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District staff are now looking for a new neighborhood to conduct trials.

British Company Engineered The Trial Mosquitoes

Oxitec, a British biotech company engineered the 'Aedes aegypti' mosquitoes for the trial.  A. aegypti are exotic and invasive to the United States, including Florida. Only females can bite, and they're able to transmit viruses, such as Zika.  Oxitec plans to release millions of engineered males - which naturally don't bite - to mate with females inorder to produce dud offspring. 

Similar trials have been conducted in Panama and Brazil, the engineered mosquitoes were able to zap up to 90 percent of wild populations for short periods.

FDA Said Trial Has No Potential Adverse Impact On People

Monroe County, which includes the Keys, has had big problems in the past with dengue, another disease carried by the same mosquito causing Zika, but there are no reported incidents of Zika in the area yet.  Bob Eadie, the county's health department head, supports the trial and said that it doesn't mean that Zika is not a threat to the residents, eventhough there are no cases of Zika in the county currently.  "There is a tool available for the people of Monroe County that can help control mosquitoes that carry a very, very, very serious disease," he said.

Oxitec said that if the trial in Keys goes well, they may begin trials in Miami next year.

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