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Genetically modified mosquitoes approved in Florida Keys

Posted: 7:37 PM, Nov 21, 2016
Updated: 2016-11-22 14:50:53Z
The fight against Zika is going into the next round. Officials in the Florida Keys have given the green light to genetically modified mosquitoes, designed to kill those transmitting the Zika virus. 
 
 
In Palm Beach County, the virus remains a high priority despite the cooler temperatures. 
 
"In fact we had another possible Zika case just this morning," said Chris Reisinger with the county's mosquito control division. 
 
He said his team continues to test the mosquito population and to encourage everyone to prevent the population from spreading. 
 
"We're talking to residents and having them flipping over their own containers and anything that holds water," Reisinger said. 
 
It's a slow process and they could soon get a new weapon against the virus.
 
"It's exciting. It's new technology," Reisinger said about the GMO mosquitoes. 
 
The British company Oxitec has engineered a male mosquito with a self-limiting gene. They mate with females, passing the gene on and the offspring won't even reach adulthood. 
 
"This could change mosquito control if it goes well and there aren't any bad consequences," Reisinger said.
 
Unknown consequences is exactly what people in the Keys are worried about. Mila De Meir started a petition against the GM mosquito on change.org . It has already gotten more than 170,000 signatures. 
 
"As a regular citizen I never thought that I would have to do this but I felt very powerless over what's happening and the fact that we're about to be used as a guinea-pig," De Mier said. 
 
Earlier this year, the FDA said the technology is not having a significant impact on the environment or on humans. In a statement to NewsChannel 5, an Oxitec spokesperson said that while the current method of killing mosquitoes is only 30 to 50% successful and kills off other helpful insects like bees, their method would target only one type of mosquito and reduce their numbers by 90%. 
 
Trails in Brazil and the Cayman Islands have been successful, according to the company. 
 
In those trials, the company released millions of male mosquitoes, which don't bite. 
 
While many Palm Beach County officials are watching the trial closely, Reisinger said the county is not anywhere close to adapting the program. He said it would have to be approved by the voters first and even then, the biggest hurdle might be the price. 
 
Millions of GM mosquitoes would have to be released. With a price tag of roughly 10 cents per mosquito, Reisinger said we currently lack the funding.