When Will The Keys Begin Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes To Fight Zika?

(Photos courtesy of Flickr's Natural Causes and UF/IFAS)

In collaboration with MosquitoMate, Inc., the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District will hold a field trial in mid-April in hopes to reduce the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which have been related to the Zika virus.

During November elections, residents of Monroe County voted in favor of British company Oxitec running a trial with genetically-modified mosquitos, but the neighborhood of Key Haven rejected it.

“We’re currently working with the FDA to get that approval changed to Monroe County as a whole, submitting additional information to the FDA and answering questions that they have,” Oxitec spokesman Matthew Warren said. “We will then work with FKMCD to identify a location within the county for the trial.”

Warren said there is no timeline for when the trial will begin but said Oxitec is “working to move ahead as promptly as the regulatory process will allow.”

In the meantime, MosquitoMate, Inc., a company based in Kentucky, will be working with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to conduct a trial using the bacterium Wolbachia to reduce and/or eliminate Aedes aegypti mosquito.

It is that mosquito species that carries the Zika virus.

According to the Wolbachia Field Trail guide, male Aedes aegypti will be infected with the bacterium Wolbachia. When these infected males, which do not bite, mate with female Aedes aegypti, the female’s egg will not hatch. This effect is similar the the trial Oxitec had planned in the Keys. Genetically-modified male Aedes aegypti that mate with females will cause the offspring to die.

The trial beginning in mid-April will release modified male mosquitos twice a week for about 12 weeks.

This story emerged from an audience question. Submit your curiosities to Find Out Florida, and we’ll find the answer.

About Baylor Cherry

Baylor Cherry is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at 727-916-0142.

Check Also

GRU’s Switch From Coal To Cleaner Natural Gas At Deerhaven Unit 2 Would Cost Upwards of $12M

But the utility could see initial savings of about $4 million.

One comment

  1. I began following the Oxitec story over a year ago. As a retired molecular biologist, the elegant simplicity of Oxytec’s technology was appealing and their successes in Brazil and Cayman even motivated me to buy a small amount of stock in their parent company (a risky bet – not for amateurs). Several months ago I began following the Wolbachia saga as well and while I fully support the concept of testing both approaches, it baffles me why the GM mosquito is feared and Wolbachia is blindly accepted simply because it is supposedly “natural.”

    The worst biological disasters haven’t come from GMOs but from the introduction of species into new ecosystems (e.g. cane toads in Australia, the emerald ash borer in the US) – which in some sense is what the introduction of Wolbachia into the Aedes aegypti mosquito represents (Wolbachia is injected in much the same way as foreign DNA that makes the GM mosquito – but it’s an entire genome instead of just two genes). We don’t know all the consequences and the fact that Wolbachia enhances West Nile Virus transmission in the Culex mosquito should at least raise some concern [google “Wolbachia Enhances West Nile Virus (WNV) Infection in the Mosquito Culex tarsalis”].

    There have been technical problems with Wolbachia as well. For instance the results of the trial that MosquitoMate ran in Clovis California last summer haven’t been widely announced – because they had some issues – one of which was the accidental release of females (difficult to prevent) caused the method to fail in some cases (see Wired article “A Bizarre Bacteria Could Be the Key to Controlling Mosquitoes”). A group called Eliminate Dengue uses a different Wolbachia strain and approach. They’ve run into issues with heat sensitivity [google “Bacteria deployed to destroy mosquito-borne dengue can’t take the heat”].

    Much of the opposition to the GM mosquito has been fomented by the same groups that seem to make their living fear-mongering GMO foods (apparently they receive significant funding from the organic industry who love it when consumers, worried about the food supply, migrate to their over-priced products). I suspect they fear that acceptance of the GM mosquito could make people more comfortable with GM technology in general and they’d eventually become irrelevant.

    So, in conclusion, both Wolbachia and GM mosquitoes should be tested – don’t fear the GM mosquito and don’t place all your bets on Wolbachia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *