GMO mosquitoes could fight Zika outbreak

Posted at 5:51 PM, Feb 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-13 11:43:59-05

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. – As the Zika virus spreads out of South America a high tech method of eradicating disease carrying mosquitoes is back in the spotlight. Genetic modification.

“We've got two genes,” explained Hadyn Parry, CEO of British biotech company Oxitec. "One of them is this self-limiting gene and one is the red color. We actually created this mosquito, we created this product if you will, well over a decade ago.”

Right now the company has a genetic modified version of Aedes Aegypti, the invasive mosquito species carrying the Zika virus. The species most likely to make you sick.

"We produce male mosquitoes that don't bite. They mate with the females and the offspring die. If we do that we crash the population down," Parry detailed. "We've reduced the population of these mosquitoes by about 90% in about six months in every case."

In 2009 Oxitec submitted documents required by the Federal Drug Administration to release its mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. Now Oxitec is waiting for the FDA to publish a preliminary environmental assessment and open a public comment period. Mila deMier lives in the Keys and wants the opportunity to share her view on the project.

"We really are trying to say please slow down," deMier explained.

deMier is active with South Florida based group GMO Free Florida. She said the group is concerned about bites from modified females which could inadvertently be released if approved by the FDA. deMier also cited concerns over the long term effects of eradicating one species of mosquito.

"If you eliminate the Aedes Aegypti, that's the one that carries Dengue along with the Zika, is another mosquito like the Asian Tiger that is even more aggressive and going to come in and take its place," deMier questioned.

She created a petition fighting the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys. It currently has more than 160 signatures.