GMO Mosquitoes to|Fight Zika in Florida

     (CN) — A new tool for battling against the mosquito-borne Zika virus — genetically modified mosquitoes — may prevent large-scale spread of the virus within the continental United States.
     The Federal Drug Administration on Friday approved field testing for genetically modified mosquitoes engineered by the British biotechnology company Oxitec, which created the OX513A mosquitoes.
     The genetically modified mosquitoes will be used to mate with the mosquitoes that can carry Zika. The GMO pest transmits an artificial gene to kill offspring, thereby stemming the vector population.
     The FDA’s announcement comes after the first cases of local Zika transmission by a mosquito to humans were reported around Miami. Federal and state health officials have struggled to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the primary vector for Zika — in the area.
     Local transmission has occurred in more than 30 nations across the Caribbean and South America, and could be more common in the United States during summer months due to increased mosquito activity.
     “Oxitec has produced a genetically engineered line of the mosquito Aedes aegypti with the intent of suppressing the population of that mosquito at the release sites. Aedes aegypti is known to transmit potentially debilitating human viral diseases, including Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya and has been found in some U.S. states, but is most prevalent in the South,” the FDA said in a statement.
     The FDA gave Oxitec preliminary approval in March for a field test and deployment of the OX513A mosquitoes in Key West. The approval was contingent on the outcome of public comment.
     Oxitec has already conducted trials in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil, where they reported a 90 percent reduction in the local mosquito populations.
     Despite potential hazards, the FDA said the mosquitoes would “not have significant impacts on the environment.” As part of the review, the agency released a draft environmental assessment and a preliminary finding of no significant impact.
     The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a rare domestic travel warning due to the Florida cases which applies to Wynwood, a neighborhood north of downtown Miami. Some experts have suggested the travel advisory should apply to all of Miami-Dade County.
     Of the 367 Zika infections reported in Florida, 16 were not travel related.
     “Oxitec is responsible for ensuring all other local, state, and federal requirements are met before conducting the proposed field trial, and, together with its local partner the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, to determine whether and when to begin the proposed field trial in Key Haven, Florida,” the FDA said.
     President Barack Obama addressed the Zika virus Thursday, urging the public to remain calm despite the local transmission cases.
     “I do want to be very clear, though, our public health experts do not expect to see the kind of widespread outbreaks of Zika here that we’ve seen in Brazil or in Puerto Rico. The kind of mosquitoes that are most likely to carry Zika are limited to certain regions of our country. But we cannot be complacent because we do expect to see more Zika cases,” he said.

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