Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Approved for Release in Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are primed for the release of genetically modified (GM) male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that pass a self-limiting gene to their offspring.

Florida residents have been voicing their concerns since March 2016 about the release of a genetically modified (GM) mosquito, OX513A, meant to reduce prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector that transmits Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue.

Earlier this month, Florida voters took to their election ballots to quietly protest the release of these mosquitoes; although it was a close vote in Monroe County, results from Key Haven (where the modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are set to be released) saw a shift towards a resounding “no,” with 65% of voters in opposition.

Nonetheless, as indicated in a press release from the British biotech firm, Oxitec, the Board of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has approved the release of OX513A in Key Haven. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is working alongside Oxitec to decide the release site for the new mosquitoes.

Prior to the election, the US Food and Drug Administration had already approved OX513A for release, after considering public commentary and publishing a Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment. According to Oxitec, when mating with the female mosquito, the male OX513A would release a modified gene to its offspring, killing them before they can bite humans and transmit infections.

An Oxitec educational flyer promises the following results:

  1. Up to 99% reduction in the vector
  2. Improvement to vector-control measures
  3. Controlling vector populations in areas where insecticides can’t
  4. Pesticide-free technology that targets only Aedes aegypti
  5. A safe, healthy, effective approach that is FDA-approved
  6. OX513A dies out, leaving no environmental trace behind
  7. Reduces unhealthy insecticides from the environment

According to Oxitec’s website, the company is currently undergoing similar field trials of GM mosquitoes in Brazil, Piracicaba, and the Cayman Islands, where public support has been strong.