Fighting Zika with GMO mosquitoes could start soon in Florida

Leaders petitioning for GMO mosquitoes in Pinellas
Posted at 5:50 PM, Nov 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-10 17:50:03-05

A Florida county has cleared the way for the first U.S. test using genetically modified mosquitoes to fight against the species that spreads Zika virus.

Monroe County, Florida, voted to allow a test of GMO mosquitoes created by the British biotech company Oxitec; the GMO variety passes on genetic traits to their offspring that cause them to die in the wild, dramatically reducing the overall population of the mosquitoes.

Oxitec has created genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, adding genes to the same insects that transmit Zika virus.

Over 1,000 Floridians have been infected with the Zika virus over the past couple years, either by travel or by contact with mosquitoes in South Florida.

With concerns about Zika continuing to grow in Florida, many representatives in Pinellas County continue to call on the federal government to allow the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Tampa Bay Area.

Florida House Rep. Chris Sprowls was among several Pinellas County leaders who petitioned the Department of Health and Human Services to approve the use of GMO mosquitoes to prevent the spread of Zika, and tells ABC Action News that he hopes the trial run in Monroe County will show Tampa Bay Area residents that the science is safe and sound.

Oxitec has conducted tests in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil so far.

While Monroe County voted in a non-binding referendum to allow a test, one last hurdle remains since the neighborhood where the test was expected to occur, called Key Haven, voted against it. The final decision will be made by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board in a meeting later this month.

Derek Nimmo, the senior scientist for the Oxitec trial, said they were happy to get a majority of yes votes in Monroe County, and adds that if Key Haven doesn't want to be part of the trial, Oxitec has identified alternatives for the county. The new sites would have to be approved by the FDA and the Florida Key Mosquito Control Board

Once approved, Nimmo estimates they could start the trial as soon as next February.