Mosquito control meets science fiction
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a plan that involves releasing genetically altered mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. The purpose? Beyond sounding like a cool science fiction scenario, the FDA hopes these mutant mosquitoes will kill their Zika-carrying peers.
Biotech company Oxitec is behind the project, having engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that can pass a fatal gene on to all offspring produced with females in the wild. According to Fusion, these genetically modified insects have two copies of the same fatal gene, ensuring natural selection won’t get it the way of killing off mosquito babies.
The FDA approved the proposal only after confirming it “will not have significant impacts on the environment.” Though Oxitec will still have to get the approval of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District after they conduct their own environmental tests. So far, Zika virus has affected more than 1,600 U.S. residents, and that number is likely to rise. And seeing as two babies were born in California recently with potentially Zika-related microcephaly and the CDC issued its first travel warning in the continental U.S. due to an outbreak in Miami, it seems more will be in support of acting to prevent further damage than doing nothing at all.
Though, many are still hesitant about this plan largely due to its genetically modified component. Oxitec’s senior scientist working on the mosquito project, Derric Nimmo, believes this is the best option for reducing the Zika-carrying population of mosquitoes and plans to go door-to-door in Key Haven convincing locals.
“Everywhere else where we’ve done this there’s been 90 percent or better control of the population,” Nimmo said in an interview with Fusion. “If we can show that it’s the same in the Key Haven, it has a really good chance of being able to prevent Zika in Miami or wherever in the U.S.”
Considering the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District spends upward of $1 million each year on combating mosquito populations with insecticides, going the genetic route could be the more environmentally conscious solution.