With confirmation that Zika-carrying mosquitos have finally spread to the US, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a controversial new experiment to confront the attendant risk. Genetically engineered mosquitoes will be released in Key West, Florida in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. The engineered male mosquitoes contain a gene that causes any offspring to die before the bugs can transmit the disease to humans.
The altered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were created by Oxitec Ltd., which has already carried out trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, and Panama. By any measure, the tests were a runaway success: local mosquito populations were reportedly reduced by 90 percent. While the FDA gave preliminary approval to the test earlier this year, the decision has now been made formal with the agency’s release of an environmental assessment showing the mosquitos would “not have significant impacts on the environment.” However, Oxitec still needs the approval of Key West residents in order to go ahead – polling will take place later this fall.
While this is an effective method of controlling mosquitoes and the numerous diseases they carry without resorting to harsh chemical pesticides, the plan comes with controversy. Some opponents to the plan cite concerns about safety, the impact on tourism, and the potential impact the declining mosquito population could have on the nearby ecosystem. At least one entomologist has argued that the ecological concerns are overblown, since only one particular species of mosquito is targeted by the efforts. However, these concerns are exactly why it’s so important to start with small-scale tests rather than simply releasing the modified mosquitos throughout the country.
This approval comes after Center for Disease Control officials confirmed that the Zika virus has finally reached the continental US. Though there have been cases reported throughout the US this year, this is the first time public health officials have seen cases that were acquired by patients in the US. Previous cases were generally acquired when the victims had traveled to countries with a known Zika outbreak, although there have been some cases that were believed to be sexually transmitted.
Via The Verge