Florida is one step closer to field trials of genetically engineered mosquitoes that could slow the spread of diseases like Zika.
The Food and Drug Administration issued its final environmental assessment Friday, finding that a proposed field trial to test the mosquitoes is adequately safe for both humans and the environment.
FDA’s decision is not a final approval, Oxitec, the company who created the mosquitoes, now awaits the decision of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which oversees mosquito management.
In light of FDA’s findings and increasing numbers of locally acquired cases of Zika infection, Oxitec CEO Haydn Perry urged a state of emergency-type declaration be considered to get the field trial underway quickly, suggesting that should efforts fail in Florida, the company would reluctantly look to other communities for its first US trials.
The US moves to allow the release of genetically modified mosquitoes.
In November, residents of the Florida Keys will vote in a nonbinding referendum on whether or not to proceed with the field trial.
Phil Goodman, chairman of the mosquito board, said the board could vote to allow the field trial, regardless of the outcome of the referendum on the November ballot.
When Oxitec’s genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mate with regular mosquitoes in the wild, the offspring die before they can reproduce, thus decreasing the total mosquito population and the spread of diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, and possibly Zika.
In field trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, and Panama, the population of mosquitoes in the experimental areas dropped by about 90 percent within six to nine months.
The Florida Keys delays residents’ vote on genetically modified mosquitoes.
The proposed US trial has two goals, as outlined in the environmental assessment: see if the genetic modification in the engineered mosquitoes is passed on to offspring, and determine if the offspring die earlier as intended.
In the trial, mosquitoes would be released in Key Haven into an experimental zone.
Oxitec’s mosquito is the first genetically engineered animal to be approved by the FDA for use in an open-release field trial, said FDA officials.