The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said late last week that the genetically engineered Zika-killing mosquitoes pose no threat to the environment. On Friday, the agency gave the final nod to a field trial aimed to test the insects in the Florida Keys.
According to a FDA statement, the mutant insects developed by Oxitec biotech “will not have significant impacts on the environment.” The insects are designed to destroy the Zika virus by wiping out most of the local mosquito population.
Researchers explained that the male mutant bugs will carry a gene that will be fatal to any offspring resulted from a mutant insect and a wild female mosquito. Now that it has the FDA’s approval, Oxitec will have to convince the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District that the method is safe.
The state agency pledged to vote on the project as soon as it has conducted a survey on the residents’ sentiment toward the disease-obliterating project. Previous surveys have shown that while most of the population supports the initiative, there are some vocal critics.
Opponents are concerned over the consequences of replacing a native mosquito species with a genetically-engineered one. Other critics believe that Oxitec’s project is part of a larger conspiracy theory.
But the biotech company claims that the procedure is perfectly safe. Researchers explained that mutant mosquito dads carry two copies of the lethal gene which makes it almost certain that it is transmitted to baby mosquitoes despite natural selection processes.
The company claims that similar initiatives were a huge success in Panama and Brazil where 90 percent of native mosquito species was eradicated. On the other hand, the World Health Organization has cautioned that there are few studies on the “epidemiological impact” of the procedure even though the organization hasn’t challenged the its effectiveness.
Yet, the FDA’s approval takes Florida one step closer to using the mutant mosquitoes in field. In the coming months, Oxitec employees will be deployed in Key Haven to convince locals that the method poses no risks, a company representative said.
Researchers believe that if the Zika-carrying mosquitoes are contained in Key Haven, there is a good chance to prevent the epidemic from spreading in Miami or parts of the state. The biotech company believes that its Zika-killing insects are the solution Florida residents don’t yet realize they need.
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