A genetically engineered mosquito being used in the fight against the Zika virus will not have a significant impact on the environment, according to preliminary findings from the FDA. Males of the self-limiting strain of the Aedes aegypti mosquito are modified so that their offspring die before being able to reproduce.
The Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, has been linked to an increase in microcephaly, a rare birth defect, as well as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis.
Oxitec Ltd., the United Kingdom company that developed the mosquito, and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District are collaborating on a field trial in the Keys.
According to Oxitec, its mosquito control method is based on the sterile insect technique (SIT), which is an environmentally friendly, species-specific approach. SIT has been used successfully in agriculture for more than 50 years. The method works by releasing sterile insects of a target species. The sterile males compete with the wild males for female insects. If a female mates with a sterile male, then it will have no offspring, reducing the next generation’s population. Repeated release of insects can reduce the insect population to very low levels.
Oxitec developed its genetically modified Ae. aegypti mosquitoes––called the OX513A strain––in 2002. Since 2009, the company and other groups have performed open-release tests of the mosquitoes in several countries, including the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, Panama, and Brazil. In each trial, Oxitec mosquitoes reduced the local Ae. aegypti population by more than 90%.
Sources: Reuters; March 11, 2016; and Oxitec; 2016.