Now it’s up to the voters.
OX513A is a male Aedes aegypti mosquito — a species known to transmit dengue fever, yellow fever, and Zika — genetically engineered to carry stretches of DNA that cause premature death. When these males get released into a population and mate with native females, the lethal code gets passed onto offspring.
With these genetically engineered males and their ill-fated offspring, the UK biotech company Oxitec hopes to obliterate disease-spreading mosquito populations. Its newest plan to release these males into the Florida Keys has now received approval from the FDA.
The approval coincides with the news that at least 16 people in Miami have been infected with the virus by local mosquitoes, as well as government warnings that pregnant women avoid travel to the impacted area in Miami-Dade County.
The release trial would last up to 22 months. Though the FDA reported that the short-term release “would be unlikely to result in adverse effects on the environment or human health”, Florida Keys residents will ultimately decide whether the trial goes forward through a vote.
Releases of engineered mosquitoes from that same line in Brazil and the Cayman Islands have led to successful suppression of the native Aedes aegypti populations, according to a study published last year in PLOS ONE.
The main control measure currently used by Florida Keys Mosquito Control District involves spraying larvicides. Its effectiveness has been called into question, but mass aerial spraying is set to continue whether the field trial proceeds or not.