There is a newly approved plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida. Federal authorities in the state have recently expressed final approval on the release of mosquitoes modified by genes. However, none of the insects will be released on the spot in the state’s fight against the spread of Zika virus – an infection transmitted by Aedes mosquito bites.
The United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has recently agreed to Oxitec biotech firm’s proposal to release its mosquitoes in an island neighbor of Key West, concluding this would not create significant effect to the environment. The decision was triggered after taking into account thousands of public comments. Together with The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine thoroughly went over FDA’s review. In line of this, officials in the local region are expected to hold a nonbinding vote on the proposal for Florida Keys residents in November.
The FDA approval was released hours before Department of Health in Florida confirmed a new Zika infection within a 1-square-mile zone surrounding Wynwood neighborhood of Miami. For that reason, the number of non-travel-related Zika cases has gone up to 16 while the cases of travel-related infections already reached 351.
The new movement would have Oxitec releasing nonbiting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes modified with synthetic DNA to produce offspring that die outside a lab around Keys area.
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The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District conducted a meeting with Oxitec after a dengue outbreak in Key West ended in 2010 with a goal to bring about new ways to get rid of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are known to be virus carriers and are considered a major and expensive threat in the island chain that is popularly depending in its tourism. Meanwhile, Brazil and the Cayman Islands are also freeing up Oxitec’s insects as part of other mosquito control activities.
However, Anti-GMO activists have drawn criticisms over Oxitec for permitting the release of some modified female mosquitoes as they can still bite humans. On its defence, Oxitec said that only a small number of females have been freed and that their bites could less likely cause serious health problems. Its CEO, Mr. Hadyn Perry, said the FDA’s approval of the field trial is expected to lead to discussions about fast-tracking releases in any places during a public health crisis.
In a conference call with reporters, Perry remarked about the said movement. “The pathways that enable emergency use should be looked at because the crisis is here and now, and it would be an awful shame if we looked back in two or three years and say, ‘Why did not we do this?”, Parry said.
Oxitec, which is also a subsidiary of Maryland-based Intrexon, has also tested mosquitoes found in Panama. Alongside this, the company has also worked with the United States Department of Agriculture in separate projects to test genetically modified pink bollworms and diamondback moths which have been discovered to be a good repeller of agricultural pests in the U.S. It is no secret that Oxitec is promoting its technology as a chemical-free approach to eradicate mosquitoes and the risks they bring like Zika, chikungunya, malaria, or dengue fever. This week, Miami’s head of the CDC supported aerial pesticide spraying that has been killing a significant number of mosquitoes in an arts district where Zika was allegedly transmitted by insects on the mainland of United States for the very first time.
Zika virus is mainly spread by Aeges mosquitoes. While there have been 16 confirmed cases of Zika in the Miami area, other infections reported in the United States, 1,825 cases to be exact, have been linked to travel to countries in Latin America or the Caribbean where Zika virus is outbreaking.