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Houston Officials Consider Use Of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes To Fight Zika Virus

21 March 2017, 7:12 am EDT By Antonio Manaytay Tech Times
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Houston officials are eyeing the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the possible spread of Zika virus.

The report said officials of Harris County, Texas, are discussing plans with Oxitec, a British biotech company, to release genetically modified mosquitoes that will not reach adulthood.

The plan, according to Mustapha Debboun, director of the Harris County Mosquito Control Division, is to have the tool to fight not only Zika but also other mosquito-borne diseases.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the carrier of Zika virus, dengue fever, and chikungunya, are common in Houston area.

There is no reported local transmission of Zika in Houston. Texas had homegrown Zika cases only in Cameron County, on the border with Mexico.

Trial Did Not Push Through

In August 2016, Oxitec got the signal from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a field trial in a Florida Key suburb.

The FDA said the trial will have no adverse effects on humans, animals, or the environment.

The proposed Florida Keys trial did not materialize last year in the face of mounting concerns from Key Haven residents on genetic engineering.

To conduct a trial in Harris County, the company has to submit the required environmental assessment to the agency, the FDA said.

Trials Outside The United States Promising

The British company, however, had conducted several tests in Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands. It claimed to have produced around 90 percent of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes in each of the three locations.

Oxitec scientist Deric Nimmo called it an important change in tackling the disease with the "release of mosquitoes to control mosquitoes."

New Ways To Fight Zika Virus

The Oxitec technology needs inoculation of mosquito eggs with DNA containing deadly genes. In every batch of inoculated eggs, only the males will be released to mate with wild female mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes don't bite, so they will not help spread the disease.

The offspring of these genetically modified male and wild females will just die when hatched.

Field tests outside the United States had shown the technique was able to reduce the mosquito population over an eight-month period by 82 percent.

"About 40 percent of the global population is at risk [from] this species," Andrew McKemey, an entomologist and head of Oxitec field operations, said.

There is a need for new ways to combat the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, as all the current mosquito control methods are inadequate.

"My opinion on how we should proceed is we should aggressively pursue Aedes aegypti control," Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said.

He said there is a need to act on the problem while it is not yet late, especially in cities that are at risks.

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