Florida Keys Mosquito Control District
Florida Keys Mosquito Control District
News Article | May 8, 2017
Near Key West, Fla., mosquito-control officers are trying something new. They’re releasing more mosquitoes. In a 12-week test running through early July, 40,000 male mosquitoes are being released each week with the eventual goal of preventing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and dengue. Instead of trying to kill the mosquitoes directly, a losing battle in Florida, a Kentucky company called MosquitoMate has infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with a strain of Wolbachia bacteria that makes the males disastrous dads. When these males mate with uninfected wild females, their offspring die before hatching. The Florida trial is the latest in worldwide tests of two conceptually opposite approaches to using Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes as disease control officers. The better-known tack is to render mosquitoes less able to carry disease but leave them free to do what mosquitoes do. The approach now being tried in Florida would instead try to stomp down their numbers. The first salvo in this new battle began on the afternoon of April 18, when staff of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District worked their way along some streets on Stock Island. At 20 predetermined spots, workers opened fat cardboard tubes packed with male mosquitoes shipped overnight in a cooler from Kentucky — 20,000 mosquitoes in all. Blowing gently at one end of the tubes encouraged males to lift into the air and whine off in search of the island’s wild females. Wolbachia bacteria make these males biologically incompatible with uninfected females. Over time, flooding a neighborhood with bad dads should shrink the local population of Ae. aegypti mosquitoes. That species “is very difficult to control,” says Andrea Leal, executive director of the control district. Ae. aegypti is the domestic cockroach of mosquitoes, sticking inside, under or near human homes, where heavy pesticide use is restricted. Larvae can grow in mere bottle-capfuls of rainwater, so saucers under potted plants or puddles in a crumpled tarp can become a public health menace. Ae. aegypti can spread yellow fever and chikungunya viruses, as well as Zika, which broke out in Miami last year. The mosquito can also carry dengue, a painful disease better known in tropical countries that has made appearances in Key West over the past decade, including one case in 2016. Infecting mosquitoes with certain strains of Wolbachia bacteria can sabotage the spread of such viruses, though biologists are still exploring how. One proposed scenario: Wolbachia compete with viruses for precious resources inside cells, such as cholesterol. Forms of Wolbachia are found naturally in various ants, butterflies and many other arthropods. But no form of the bacteria had taken to Ae. aegypti, so researchers have gone to years of trouble working out how to coax bacterial strains from other insect species into the troublesome mosquito. Scientists were able to infect mosquitoes with the bacteria without genetically modifying either species, a plus because a recent proposal to release genetically modified mosquitoes as pest control in nearby Key Haven stirred fierce protests (SN Online: 8/5/16). The bacterial infection technique that finally worked was simple in concept, though not so simple to execute, says entomologist Stephen Dobson at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Researchers just used a vanishingly slender glass needle to poke the bacteria into mosquito eggs. That method developed the lineages of mosquitos now being released twice a week on Stock Island. One advantage of the test’s population-crashing approach, says Dobson, also MosquitoMate’s CEO, is that workers puffing a thousand insects out of a shipping tube near someone’s yard are releasing only males, which don’t bite. “People might accept that more,” Dobson says. To replace the mosquito population with a safer one — the better-known strategy — requires releasing females, too, which Dobson points out, “bite people and drink their blood.” That vampire route has advantages, though, argues Scott O’Neill of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He leads an international nonprofit collaboration called Eliminate Dengue (SN: 7/14/12, p. 22), which works in developing countries with vast areas at risk of disease but minuscule budgets. Instead of suppressing mosquitoes and risking a comeback, he chose an approach that relies on the bacteria to spread and maintain themselves. The bacterial infection can sweep into a population extraordinarily fast. But for it to do so, he says, his group has to release females, too. Wolbachia-carrying males have no problem siring bouncing baby mosquitoes if the mom also carries the bacterium, and the young then carry the bacteria, too. With mosquitoes doing the work, “we can sort of march across the landscape,” O’Neill says. One of the project’s first release sites, in Australia, still hums with Wolbachia-carriers six years later with no need for additional treatment. “We have a very lousy business model,” he says, not sounding very sorry. Eliminate Dengue is marching over swaths of five countries, including Brazil. In the city of Rio de Janeiro, the project is treating about 150 square kilometers over the course of two years and aims to protect 2.5 million city-dwellers for years to come. The biggest roadblock to bacteria-based mosquito control hasn’t appeared yet, and researchers don’t know if it will. If viruses such as Zika or dengue evolve a way to thrive in Wolbachia-infected cells, the benefit could dwindle away. O’Neill hasn’t seen signs of resistance yet, but he has a plan if he does: The project could release mosquitoes with a new combination of Wolbachia strains to spread through a population and replace ones that are losing effectiveness. The Eliminate Dengue team has already developed mosquitoes infected with just such a combination of bacterial strains, he says. This possibility of developing resistance, much as some pests develop resistance to pesticides or antibiotics, is reduced with the MosquitoMate approach, Dobson says. The suppression approach shouldn’t leave survivors in which viral evolution could take place. For now, Florida will be a high-profile test for the approach — but it won’t be the first. MosquitoMate has tested two other species of bacteria-carrying mosquito: Ae. polynesiensis on Pacific Islands to combat lymphatic filariasis and its elephantine swellings, plus the aggressively biting tiger mosquito, Ae. albopictus, which can render U.S. backyards uninhabitable as well as spread viruses. The company has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval to sell booby-trapped tiger mosquitoes as a biopesticide in the United States. The third of MosquitoMate’s saboteur insects, Ae. aegypti, was first deployed last year in Clovis, Calif. After the California test, the group made some tweaks in hopes of creating at least a 7-to-1 ratio of bacteria-carrying Kentucky males to native Floridian rivals. That’s the initial result that Leal, of the mosquito control district, is focusing on for this year. Keys’ residents would love to see a big drop in the mosquito’s numbers, too, but Leal says that’s the next stage. For now, getting enough of the dud dads out there mating with female mosquitoes will be a big accomplishment.
News Article | April 21, 2017
Ticked Off! Here's What You Need To Know About Lyme Disease Thousands of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria were released in an area of the Florida Keys in an attempt to control the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, carriers of the Zika virus, Chikungunya, and the Dengue fever. Approximately 20,000 male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released on Stock Island April 18 for a field trial that will go on for at least 12 weeks. The modified mosquitoes don't bite and have been manually infected with the bacteria. Wolbachia is present in the cells of numerous insects. However, it doesn't naturally occur in mosquitoes, so the bacteria were manually injected in a lab as part of the current trial. When the infected male mosquitoes mate with the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the eggs don't hatch, which makes it impossible for the insects to reproduce. The trial intends to naturally stop the spread of the virus by attacking the fundamental process through which these mosquitoes reproduce. The Zika virus can affect pregnant women as well as those who plan on getting pregnant. In case of infestation, there can be grave consequences for the children born to mothers who were carriers of the virus during the pregnancy. Approximately one in 10 mothers in the United States who gave birth while infected with the Zika virus in 2016 had children who suffered from birth defects, according to data provided by the CDC. "Testing for Zika remains complex because there is a narrow timeframe for obtaining a positive laboratory result, and many infected people do not have symptoms that might motivate testing," also noted the CDC page. According to Andrea Leal, executive director for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, the success of this trial could mean that a new tool effective in fighting the virus is available. Should the trial be successful, the representatives of this initiative would encourage local administrations countrywide to try out this solution as well. The mosquitoes will be released two times every week in 20 areas within the trial surface. The male insects don't bite. However, immediately after the beginning of this trial, the presence of an increased number of mosquitoes will be noticeable. There have been 5,238 documented cases of the Zika virus in the continental part of the United States and Hawaii, and less than 300 cases have been locally transmitted. Out of the total number of cases, 4,939 occurred in travelers who returned home from areas affected by this virus. The infection can cause microcephaly as well as other kinds of serious brain damage in babies. The pattern of birth defects associated with the disease includes vision problems, brain abnormalities, problems moving limbs, and hearing loss. Additionally, kids who seem to be normal at birth can also suffer from underlying brain defects related to the virus. "CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to areas with risk of Zika and unprotected sex with a partner who has traveled to an area with Zika to prevent Zika-related birth defects in their babies," noted Peggy Honein, Ph.D., the Zika Response's Pregnancy and Birth Defects Task Force co-lead. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | November 10, 2016
Voters across one Florida county have signalled their approval for releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in a bid to fight Zika virus. But in a separate poll, the town where officials plan to carry out a scientific trial, voted to reject the proposal. The planned release is being seen as an important test for the technology's acceptance in the US. Florida has reported more than 1,100 cases of Zika this year. British biotech firm Oxitec plans to evaluate the effectiveness of their engineered mosquitoes for combating the virus. They want to release male insects across a 17-hectare region of Key Haven, a small suburb located on an island on Florida's southern tip. Zika is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The idea is that Oxitec's male mosquitoes (which do not bite) mate with wild females, but genetic modification ensures that any offspring do not survive until adulthood. Successive releases across the neighbourhood should cause Aedes aegypti populations to crash. The non-binding poll in Monroe County, which covers the Florida Keys and a large part of the Everglades National Park, asked: "Are you in favour of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District conducting an effectiveness trial in Monroe County, Florida, using genetically modified mosquitoes to suppress an invasive mosquito that carries mosquito-borne diseases?" Voters in Key Haven were asked specifically about the release of GM mosquitoes in their town. About 58% of voters across Monroe County favoured the trial. But in Key Haven, some 65% opposed the release. Now, the results of the November 8 poll will be put to board members in charge of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. They will use the results to decide whether to proceed with the scientific trial at a meeting on 19 November. Dr Derric Nimmo, who has been leading Oxitec's proposed trial in Key Haven, told BBC News: "Key Haven was chosen about four years ago, based on the fact that it's surrounded by water and it's an almost perfect scientific site where you have a control area where you don't do any releases, an area where you can do releases, and a buffer zone in between. "You don't want wild female mosquitoes coming into the area, because they will affect the quality of the results." Oxitec has previously conducted five trials in three different countries - the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil, where Dr Nimmo says, the company achieves reductions in mosquito populations of 90% or more. Aedes aegypti is an urban mosquito that can breed in bodies of standing water as small as a bottle cap. Its larvae can find refuge indoors, beyond the reach of insecticide spraying programmes. But a proportion of local residents wanted the trial cancelled; they have been concerned about potential unanticipated consequences of releasing lab insects into the wild. Mila de Mier, a Florida realtor who has founded an opposition group called Never Again, told BBC News: "This technology is treated as an animal drug, but we believe it should be treated as a human drug." She added her concern that "when you reduce the population of Aedes aegypti, another aggressive mosquito species could come in and become established - like the Asian tiger mosquito". But Dr Nimmo stressed: "We've had six years of releases, involving millions of male mosquitoes, and there have been no reports of any adverse effects." "It's important we're as transparent as possible... we've been trying to give people the facts and information so they can make an informed choice."
News Article | November 24, 2016
Students from Stanford University have created a project they call "Shazam for Mosquitoes." The team suggests that our smartphones can record mosquito wing beats and distinguish one type of mosquito from another. Shazam for Mosquitoes was done in an attempt to fight the Zika virus. The project would also record the mosquitoes into a distribution map that could work worldwide and in real-time. The project proponents showed that regular cellphones can record the wing beats of mosquitoes and distinguish between different types of mosquitoes, such as the Culex mosquitoes - the insects responsible for the spread of the West Nile virus - and Aedes mosquitoes, the ones that contributed to the spread of Zika. It usually takes less than half a second of flight for the insect's acoustic signature to be recorded through the new technology. The group hopes that Shazam for Mosquitoes will become a crowdsourcing initiative that lets users send in audio recordings of mosquitoes around them. Through time coordinates and GPS, the sound samples will be sorted and integrated into a global mosquito distribution map. The current method involves trapping mosquitoes and sorting these by hand. The automated tool proposed by Shazam for Mosquitoes will make mosquito identification and sorting easier. Another major advantage of this technique is that the application could help identify the type of mosquito regardless of the background noise, which could have been a major problem in the implementation of this idea. However, there were some skeptics of this initiative. One of their arguments is that it would be unclear whether the specimens identified as part of a species actually carry a disease or not. Another possible issue is that mosquitoes' wing beat frequencies could vary because of a series of environmental factors, from temperature to the degree of humidity. While preliminary tests have been carried out, more research is necessary in order to perfect the formula and assure an accurate identification. The research was presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. More than 4,200 travel-associated cases have been reported in the United States. As part of the fight against Zika, genetically modified mosquitoes will be released in the Florida Keys in a trial that aims to reduce mosquito population. "The company releases genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes into the wild. When they mate with female Aedes aegypti, their offspring die," NPR's Greg Allen explains. According to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, the insecticides could also be reduced once this operation is implemented, as the insects will carry out their own task naturally and a formal intervention will most likely be unnecessary. Previous trials conducted in different sites such as Brazil and the Cayman Islands were found to be effective in contributing to a larger reduction of the mosquito population. However, the trial - approved by the FDA in August - is highly controversial because many believe that releasing genetically modified beings into the environment will not go without consequences. The decision to use genetically modified mosquitoes comes after a long line of attempts when it comes to controlling the spread of the virus in the United States. During the last months, there have been more than 200 Zika infections in the state of Florida alone. However, some people have expressed opposition to the trial, arguing that there have been no infections in the Keys, making this measure unnecessary. Nevertheless, the trial release got enough yes votes from Florida Keys residents on Election Day, and the measure was approved. Other measures have also been taken to reduce the population of Aedes mosquitoes in Florida, such as using bats in Miami Beach as an alternative to spraying pesticides. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | November 7, 2016
UPDATE: Although 57% of residents of Monroe County in Florida voted in favor of releasing transgenic mosquitoes produced by Oxitec, the fate of the company’s trial there is unclear. In the small suburb of Key Haven, the proposed site of the trial, 65% of the 643 residents who voted were against the release. Although both of these referenda were nonbinding, three of five members on the local mosquito control board have said they would follow the decision of the voters on whether to approve the project. It’s not yet clear what the split vote means for their decision, but the board is expected to discuss next steps at its 19 November meeting. “While we did not win over every community in the Keys, Oxitec appreciates the support received from the community, and is prepared to take the next steps with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board to trial its environmentally friendly and nonpersisting mosquito control solution,” Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry said in a statement. Here is our previous story: Voters on the tiny suburban peninsula of Key Haven, Florida, will find an unusual question on their ballot on Election Day: “Are you in favor of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District conducting an effectiveness trial in Key Haven using genetically modified mosquitoes to suppress an invasive mosquito that carries mosquito-borne diseases?” Behind that question is a ferocious debate about the first proposed release of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the United States. The biotech company Oxitec designed the mosquitoes to carry a gene that causes their offspring to accumulate a toxic protein and die before adulthood, which could reduce populations of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmit the dengue, Zika, and chikungunya viruses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greenlighted the project in August, but local opposition has been so strong that the mosquito control board has held off on approving the release. The ballot referenda—one for Key Haven and another for the broader Monroe County—are nonbinding. But three of the five board members have said they will follow the voters’ decision. Oxitec has been releasing mosquitoes in other countries since 2009; the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, Brazil, and Panama have all hosted field experiments, and the company has reported greater than 90% reductions in mosquito populations in small test areas. But we don’t know everything about the mosquitoes or their potential impact. Here’s what the evidence says so far about some concerns Florida residents and mosquito experts have raised. It’s possible. Oxitec aims to release only males, which don’t bite, but its sorting system isn’t perfect. The company says it ensures that a maximum of 0.2% of the mosquitoes released are female. Over the proposed 26-month trial, that works out to fewer than 62 females mosquitoes per person in Key Haven—2.4 mosquitoes per household per week. (Of course, it’s hard to predict how many of them will actually alight on some human skin.) It’s highly unlikely. As the agency’s environmental impact document puts it, “mosquitoes have been feeding on humans and other animals for millennia but there is no evidence of DNA transfer between mosquitoes and humans.” There’s also “negligible” risk that the GM mosquito saliva would have any toxic or allergenic effects on humans. The two unique proteins it carries—the lethal one that affects gene transcription and a fluorescent protein to distinguish it from wild mosquitoes—were undetectable in the insects’ saliva. If they’re in there, the levels are likely too low to affect us, FDA concluded. Yes. In lab experiments, Oxitec’s lethal gene isn’t 100% lethal. The company has reported that about 4% of offspring survived to become flying adults. That survival rate might be lower in the wild, but if the offspring live long enough and are healthy enough to mate, they will introduce genes from the lab strain into the wild population. “That’s something that does have to be paid close attention to,” says entomologist Zach Adelman of Texas A&M University in College Station. When Oxitec stops its releases, mosquito numbers will rebound, and it is not clear whether or how the genes from the release strain would influence the recovered population, including how mosquitos seek out hosts, mate, or lay eggs, for example. Of key concern, he says, is how good Oxitec’s strain is at transmitting viruses compared with wild mosquitoes—its so-called vector competence. So far, studies of such changes in a postrelease population are missing, Adelman says. Simon Warner, Oxitec’s chief scientific officer in Abingdon, U.K., says there’s no reason to think their lab strain—descendants of mosquitoes collected in Cuba, crossed with a Mexican strain—would be any more dangerous than another strain of A. aegypti. “Vector competence is not a question that we’ve been asked by the [FDA] regulators,” he says. “We haven’t studied it, because we don’t think it’s a concern.” Yes, if surviving larvae carried genetic variants that protected them from Oxitec’s lethal gene. For example, if a mosquito happened to inherit genes that prevent the lethal protein from accumulating in its body, or that allow it to survive high levels of the protein, these traits could get selected for over generations. That could mean that in the future, Oxitec’s releases would make less of a dent in the population. That scenario is a “theoretical possibility,” says insect geneticist Max Scott of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, but “it wouldn’t stop me from going ahead and testing it in Florida, because I think this is a very useful technology.”
News Article | November 21, 2016
The hunt is on for a willing community to welcome genetically-modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, as part of an effort to curb the spread of Zika. This would be the first time genetically modified insects were released in the US for disease control. Voters in the originally-proposed test site—a small island called Key Haven—rejected the proposal in a non-binding referendum during the election this month, but a county-wide vote was 57 percent in favor of releasing the insects. On Saturday, the local government board, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, voted 3-2 in favor of continuing with the project, only in a different location. "We all have our opinions, we all have to listen to our constituents, and this is a tool mosquito control needs," Jill Cranney-Gage, one of the board commissioners, said during the meeting. "We need to think long and hard about this decision that we make today, and make the decision that's in the best interest of protecting the health in the county." The mosquitoes are a genetically modified version of the Aedes aegypti species, which spreads Zika and other viruses capable of sickening humans, such as Dengue. Designed by Oxitec, a biotech company that sprang out of Oxford University, the mosquitoes are given a gene that causes them to die off. Only male mosquitoes are released, after being treated with a temporary antidote to the effects of the gene. While the mosquitoes live, they mate, passing on the deadly gene to their offspring before the antidote wears off, and they bite the dust as well. The idea is that this would significantly reduce the mosquito population in the area, which would reduce the spread of Zika, a disease which can cause serious birth defects. There is still currently active transmission of Zika in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control (meaning people are picking it up at home, not getting infected while traveling and bringing it back). Oxitec has tested this in small field trials before, and claims one Brazil trial reduced the Aedes aegypti population by 96 percent in six months. The World Health Organization has given Oxitec's insects a stamp of approval, and the Food and Drug Administration granted permission for the company to conduct the Florida trial, but still some locals are wary of having their community used as a test site. Some of the concerns raised include the impact genetically-modified mosquitoes could have on the local wildlife that feeds on insects and fears that the virus could mutate and become resistant (to what, exactly, isn't clear, because there is no treatment for Zika or Dengue currently). But these concerns are largely based on a misunderstanding of the trial, which by design mean all of the released mosquitoes will die off. As Cranney-Gage said during the meeting, the biggest hurdle for public health now is finding an open-minded community in the Keys, and making sure they have the best available information. "We come to these meetings every month and we get screamed at, and attacked, and accused of stuff," Cranney-Gage said. "Whatever location we choose, [...] going out out into those neighborhoods, and engaging those people, and talking to them, and publicly educating them with factual and correct information about this project will make them feel more comfortable."
News Article | August 6, 2016
Ticked Off! Here's What You Need To Know About Lyme Disease As the mosquito-borne Zika virus continues to spread and pose threats in Florida, U.S health regulators have greenlighted a plan to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes with the aim of reducing the population of the disease-carrying insects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday gave its approval to a proposed field trial that would release Zika-killing mutant mosquitoes in Florida. In a statement about its final environmental assessment of the trial, the FDA said that the project led by Oxitec, a biotech company that specializes in insect control, will not have significant impacts on the environment. The agency has been reviewing the use of Oxitec's technology, which could potentially reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the wild, as an investigational animal drug. The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are known to carry Zika as well as other human viral diseases such as yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya. The technology involves inserting an engineered gene into male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Once these genetically engineered mosquitoes mate with females in the wild, the offspring they produce cannot survive to adulthood. "After considering thousands of public comments, the FDA has published a final environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) that agrees with the EA's conclusion that the proposed field trial will not have significant impacts on the environment," the FDA said in a statement. The assessment clears the way for Oxitec to start a clinical trial in Key Haven, Florida. The trial would evaluate if genetically modified mosquitoes can suppress the population of mosquitoes over time. It will be up to the people who live in this suburb community to vote in November whether or not the trial can proceed. The FDA likewise said that its finalization of the EA and FONSI does mean that use of Oxitec's mutant mosquitoes are approved for commercial use. The agency said that the biotech company is in charge of ensuring all local, state and federal requirements are met before it proceeds to conducting the proposed trial. It is also up to the company and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to decide when to start the field trial. Oxitec said that the trials it conducted in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands resulted in the decline of mosquito populations by 90 percent. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, said that while the technology demonstrated an ability to reduce the population of mosquitoes in small-scale field trials, there's no sufficient data yet on the epidemiological impact. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | November 10, 2016
Zika continues to be an issue in South Florida, and Florida Keys voters supported a controversial strategy to use genetically modified mosquitoes to beat back the virus. Strong residential opposition led to the item being added to the county's Election Day ballot to gauge overall opinion, but the election-time results proved otherwise. A non-binding opinion poll about whether genetically modified mosquitoes should be released to kill off the mosquitoes that spread the Zika virus earned just over 57 percent of the countywide vote. However, a parallel opinion poll done in Key Haven, Florida, where the mosquitoes would be released only earned 34 percent of the vote. These controversial mosquitoes were created by Oxitec, a United Kingdom-based company, and cannot produce living offspring. When these male mosquitoes are released, they'll breed with Aedes aegypti females (the type that spread Zika, but also dengue and yellow fever) and while the resulting eggs will hatch, the larva will die soon after. The male mosquitoes that are released can't bite people because only the females are blood-suckers. While both polls weren't intended to enact legislation, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District planned to use the polls as a measuring stick when deciding whether to release the mosquitoes. It's unclear what they'll decide going forward, but it's no question that South Florida is still grappling with the impact of a virus that can cause debilitating and deadly birth defects in pregnancies. A decision will be made by the local mosquito control board on Nov. 19. These mosquitoes were proposed months ago as a way to beat back the Zika virus that began spreading in South Florida this summer. Researchers added in a gene to these mosquitoes that kills them soon after hatching. In order to stay alive into adulthood, they have to be regularly fed an antidote while developing—one that doesn't exist outside of laboratories, according to the company. Proponents of the measure said it would be a pesticide-free way to reduce Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Keys and South Florida in general. Read more: Zika Is Driving Miami Into Debt But opponents are concerned about the unforeseen consequences of tinkering with genetics and releasing those bugs into neighborhoods and cities. While opponents aren't specific about their concerns, they're mostly fearful that the decision is a risky scientific experiment due to the fact that these mosquitoes haven't been tested anywhere else in the U.S. Oxitec has used these mosquitoes in Brazil and the Grand Cayman Islands, the company stated. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.
News Article | November 21, 2016
OXFORD, England, November 21, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Oxitec announced today the Board of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) voted to approve the investigational agreement for use of self-limiting Friendly™ mosquitoes in an effectiveness trial to fight against Aedes...
News Article | November 22, 2016
Ready or not, here they come. On 19 November, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District gave the green light to a controversial plan to test genetically engineered male mosquitoes. The mosquitoes – developed by UK biotechnology firm Oxitec – carry a gene that makes their offspring die early. By letting the GM mozzies mate with native female mosquitoes in the wild, the idea is to slash the population of mosquitoes carrying dangerous diseases such as Zika and dengue. Similar initiatives have already been successful. One trial in Piracicaba, Brazil, also led by Oxitec, reportedly reduced dengue cases by more than 90 per cent. The Florida trial in Key West would only last a few months, ending when the last of the modified mosquitoes die off. In August, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the plan, saying that it would have “no significant impact” on the environment in the long-term. Floridians, too, have voted in favour of it, endorsing a ballot measure earlier this month. But in Key Haven, the part of Key West where the trial will occur, 65 per cent of residents oppose the idea. One online petition, started by a Key West resident, raises concerns that the trial will harm Key Haven’s environment and residents. It says: “There are more questions than answers and we need more testing to be done.” The spread of Zika earlier this year was especially worrying in the state, which saw some 200 cases – although none in Key West. Last week, the WHO declared that Zika is no longer an international public health emergency. The opposition among Key Haven residents means the Oxitec team may need to find a new location for the trial.