The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can spread human viral diseases, including Zika, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya. In a bid to reduce the populations of these mosquitoes, a Bristish company Oxitec has genetically modified male mosquitoes so that their offspring will die before they reach adulthood.
Oxitec's genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes, known as OX513A, should pose no danger to the environment, US regulators reported after considering thousands of public comments.
‘Oxitec's genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes, known as OX513A, should pose no danger to the environment, suggested the US Food and Drug Administration.’
The US Food and Drug Administration's environmental review for the release of Oxitec's GE mosquitoes found "the proposed field trial will not have significant impacts on the environment." The FDA decision does not, however, mean the mosquitoes are immediately approved for commercial use, said a statement from the federal agency.
"Oxitec is responsible for ensuring all other local, state, and federal requirements are met before conducting the proposed field trial," said the FDA.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District will also weigh in on whether and when to begin the proposed field trial in Key Haven, Florida.
The program would release male Oxitec mosquitoes to mate with wild female Aedes aegypti. Only female mosquitoes bite and spread disease. Any offspring they produce would soon die, reducing the size of the mosquito population.
"Efficacy trials in Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands have tested this approach, and in each of these trials the population of Aedes aegypti was reduced by more than 90% - an exceptional level of control compared to conventional methods, such as insecticides," said an Oxitec statement.
The prospect of releasing the mosquitoes in the Florida Keys has stirred strong opposition among many residents, and a petition against them on change.org has garnered more than 168,000 signatures.
The FDA said it had reviewed thousands of comments from the public since issuing a draft environmental assessment in March 2016.
"We're delighted with the announcement today that the FDA, after their extensive review of our dossier and thousands of public comments for a trial in the Florida Keys, have published their final view that this will not have a significant impact on the environment," said Oxitec's chief executive officer Hadyn Parry.
"We are convinced that our solution is both highly effective and has sound environmental credentials," Perry added. "We are now looking forward to working with the community in the Florida Keys moving forward."