Trial release of genetically modified mosquitoes gets approval from the Florida Keys

In a recent nonbinding vote, Florida Keys voters gave the approval to allow a British company to start a trial release of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat diseases like Zika, Dengue, and chikungunya.

SPLIT FEELINGS ON THE TRIALS

On November 8th, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) presented a pair of solutions in front of voters in Monroe County and the community of Key Haven. 58 percent of the residents in Monroe County approved of the trial, while 65 percent in Key Haven opposed it. Interestingly, Key Haven is the place where the trial was set to occur. However, due to their opposition, the board would have to find a new site if it moved forward with the trial, said Phil Goodman, chairman of the district’s board of commissioners.

Residents of Key Havens opposed, explaining their fear of unintentional environmental consequences and being bitten by those genetically modified mosquitoes. They said they don’t want to be the guinea pigs of this trial. However, The FDA and other federal and local regulators consider this concern unfounded. Also, the World Health Organizations (WHO) announced that the Zika is no longer a public health emergency.

AEDES AEGYPTI

The trial involves Aedes aegypti, one of the chief culprits behind the spread of Zika virus. Only the female mosquitoes can bite and spread the virus. To knock back the bugs, British biotech company Oxitec has created an engineered strain called OX513A. When male OX513A mates with female Aedes aegypti, their offspring die. The company has already found those genetically modified mosquitoes helpful as they reduced up to 90 percent the populations of Aedes aegypti in similar trials conducted in Brazil and the Cayman Islands.

Despite the bitter foes, FKMCD and Oxitec are now working on to find a new place for the trials. To change the trial location, the board will need to get a new approval from FDA. Oxitec hopes to begin a new trial in Miami next year if things go well in the Keys.

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