US approves GMO mosquito test, but no release imminent

August 5, 2016 by Jennifer Kay

Federal authorities gave final approval Friday to a plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida, but none of the insects will be immediately dispatched in the state's fight against the spread of Zika.

After considering thousands of public comments, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine concluded the proposal from biotech firm Oxitec to release its mosquitoes in an island neighborhood just north of Key West would not significantly affect the environment, according a statement from the agency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency also contributed to the FDA's review. Local officials will hold a nonbinding vote on the proposal for Florida Keys residents in November.

The FDA approval came hours before Florida's Department of Health confirmed a new Zika infection within a 1-square-mile zone encompassing Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. That brings the state's tally of non-travel-related Zika cases to 16, in addition to 351 travel-related infections.

In the Keys, Oxitec would release nonbiting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes modified with synthetic DNA to produce offspring that die outside a lab.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District approached Oxitec after a dengue outbreak in Key West ended in 2010. The district wants new ways to eradicate Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which it considers a significant and expensive threat in the tourism-dependent island chain.

Brazil and the Cayman Islands are releasing Oxitec's insects as part of other mosquito control operations. The company, a subsidiary of Maryland-based Intrexon, also has tested the mosquitoes in Panama.

In separate projects overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oxitec has tested genetically modified pink bollworms and diamondback moths to fight agricultural pests in the U.S.

Anti-GMO activists have criticized Oxitec for allowing the release of some modified female mosquitoes, which do bite humans. The company has said only a very small number of females are released, and no humans have reported any health problems from their bites.

Oxitec CEO Hadyn Perry said the FDA's approval of the field trial should lead to discussions about fast-tracking releases elsewhere during a public health crisis.

"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 didn't we do this?'" Parry remarked in a conference call with reporters.

Oxitec promotes its technology as a chemical-free way to control mosquitoes and reduce the risks of Zika, dengue fever or chikungunya. In Miami this week, the head of the CDC credited aerial pesticide spraying with killing a significant number of mosquitoes in an arts district where Zika was apparently transmitted by insects on the U.S. mainland for the first time.

Zika is mainly spread by mosquitoes, as well as sex. Except for the 16 confirmed cases in the Miami area, the other 1,825 infections reported in the U.S. have been linked to travel to countries in Latin America or the Caribbean with Zika outbreaks.

Explore further: Genetically modified mosquitoes released in Cayman Islands

Related Stories

Genetically modified mosquitoes released in Cayman Islands

July 28, 2016

The first wave of genetically modified mosquitoes were released Wednesday in the Cayman Islands as part of a new effort to control the insect that spreads Zika and other viruses, officials in the British Island territory ...

Release of altered mosquitoes to start in Cayman Islands

July 7, 2016

An effort to reduce mosquitoes and prevent the spread of viruses such as Zika in the Cayman Islands by releasing genetically altered mosquitoes is to start next week, officials in the British Caribbean territory said Thursday.

Recommended for you

Encrypted messages in biological processes

June 21, 2018

RNA modifications can encrypt the RNA code and are responsible for a very sophisticated control of RNA function. A Danish-German research team has shown that modified RNA bases have a great impact on the dynamics of gene ...

Scientists find evidence of 27 new viruses in bees

June 20, 2018

An international team of researchers has discovered evidence of 27 previously unknown viruses in bees. The finding could help scientists design strategies to prevent the spread of viral pathogens among these important pollinators.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rderkis
not rated yet Aug 05, 2016
The WHO says hundreds of thousand children, women and men die of malaria and other diseases carried by these mosquitoes every year.
But rather than eliminating the mosquito, I think we should debate it as long as we can, for moral and ethical reasons, while innocents continue to die.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.