As the Zika virus has gained a foothold in Miami, Florida the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a field test of a genetically modified mosquito to help combat the virus.
The engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were created by Oxitec Ltd. as a means to control the diseases that the insect typically carries. The male members of the modified line are designed to transmit a fatal gene when it mates with a female. The gene kills the offspring, which will help reduce the larger population of this particular species.
Earlier this year, the FDA gave Oxitec preliminary approval to conduct a field test and to deploy their OX513A mosquitoes in Key West. (The approval was pending the outcome of public comment.) Now, the FDA has released a new environmental assessment that concludedt hat using the genetically engineered mosquitoes would “not have significant impacts on the environment.” The assessment brings the company one step closer to conducting its field test. Oxitec will now have to gain approval from the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which will be polling residents later this fall.
Oxitec has already conducted trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, and Panama, where they reported a 90 percent reduction in local mosquito populations. By comparison, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has an effective rate of 30 to 60 percent using traditional control methods, such as pesticides sprayed from trucks and planes and mosquito traps.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito can be found across the world, and is known to transmit a wide number of illnesses to humans, including chikungunya, dengue fever, Yellow fever, and Zika. Because this species is a particularly common disease vector, OX513A would be a useful means to control the diseases that it carries. The modifications have additional benefits: it would allow mosquito control units to forgo the use of toxic chemicals and repellents, which can have adverse health affects.