August 5, 2016
GMO Mosquitoes May Fight Zika Virus In Florida Soon

GMO mosquitoes may fight the Zika virus in Florida soon because the FDA approved a field test on Friday.

A company called Oxitec Ltd. has figured out how to genetically modify mosquitoes so male mosquitoes will give female mosquitoes a fatal gene when they mate that will kill any offspring, according to Fusion. Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, and it can cause human babies to have malformed brains and heads when a pregnant woman gets infected.

gmo mosquitoes fight zika virus
County mosquito control inspector uses a Golden Eagle blower to spray pesticide to kill mosquitoes. [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]The FDA does not believe the GMO mosquitoes will have a significant impact on the environment. During tests done by Oxitec, mosquito populations were reduced by 90 percent when the GMO mosquitoes were released, according to ABC News.

The next step is for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board to approve the release of the GMO mosquitoes. The control board will be polling residents to decide if it will approve the release of the mosquitoes.

"By allowing the trial, the FDA will be signaling that science and evidence-based practices should prevail over the hysteria and irrationality long associated with genetically modified organisms," Dr. Zachary Adelman, Associate Professor, Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech University, said of the experiment in March, according to NBC News.

"Almost all of the OX513A mosquitoes released for the investigational field trial will be male, and male mosquitoes do not bite humans or other animals. They are therefore not expected to have any direct impacts on human or animal health," the FDA said in March.

Past surveys have found the majority of Florida residents approve of using the GMO mosquitoes to fight the Zika virus. While there are some who are worried about genetically modifying insects, many are also worried about the spread of the Zika virus. Places like Florida and Puerto Rico have seen many cases of the Zika virus.

"Everywhere else where we've done this there's been 90% or better control of the population," Oxitec scientist Derric Nimmo told 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."

Since there is a lot of misinformation around GMOs, and many people are afraid of them, Oxitec is concerned residents might reject the plan without fully understanding it.

Luke Alphey, a co-founder of Oxitec who no longer works for the company, said people should trust the FDA's analysis.

gmo mosquito
Mosquito sucking blood. [Photo by auimeesri/iStock]"They have looked carefully at the method and specifically at this trial, and determined it is safe," he told Fusion. "I hope people who don't have the time and the information to learn everything about this will take comfort in the fact that the FDA has had the time and the information, and this is their conclusion."

Mosquitoes like the ones developed by Oxitec can also help reduce the prevalence of other mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and yellow fever.

A petition started by Key West resident Mila de Mier is asking that the mosquitoes not be released, and it has collected over 160,000 signatures. That said, the signatures are likely from people from all over the country, not just Florida residents.

"We need to make sure the FDA does not approve Oxitec's patent," the petition, which started months ago, reads. "Nearly all experiments with genetically-modified crops have eventually resulted in unintended consequences: superweeds more resistant to herbicides, mutated and resistant insects also collateral damage to ecosystems."

The petition goes on to say that there are too many questions that need to be answered, and a lot more testing should be done.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]