The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given approval to British biotechnology company Oxitec for conducting field trials of a genetically engineered mosquito that can prevent the spread of Zika virus and other diseases.
FDA has granted approval based on the fact that a field test of the mosquitoes would have no significant threat on the environment.
The British company has developed genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the same insects that transmit Zika virus.
The GMO variety of the insect passes on genetic traits to its offspring that cause them to die in the wild.
Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry was quoted by NPR as saying: “They contain what we call a self-limiting gene, which means that when they go out, these males go out, and make the females, the offspring, die.”
The GMO mosquitoes will undergo the tests in a small community of Key Haven, Florida.
As part of the trial, GMO mosquitoes, virtually all of them male, will be released to mate with non-GMO females in the wild, thereby giving birth to offspring that die quickly.
This will help reduce the overall population of the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
Florida Keys Mosquito Control District executive director Michael Doyle was quoted by ABC News as saying: “Our ultimate goal is a reduction of the Aedes aegypti population to a point where it cannot transmit diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.
“The Aedes aegypti is the toughest mosquito to control and the mosquito control board is looking at several different technologies.”
According to Doyle, if the small test turns out to be successful, attempts will be made to expand the technology.
Image: Aedes aegypti mosquito feeding on a human. Photo: courtesy of James Gathany / PHIL / CDC.