In late January, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the application of British biotech firm Oxitec to perform a field trial of the company's genetically-engineered mosquitoes in Key Haven, Florida.
Now, the FDA has granted preliminary approval for Oxitec's OX513A vector mosquito, a self-limiting male Aedes aegypti mosquito that was genetically altered so that its offspring doesn't survive and reach adulthood.
The trial in Key Haven was approved because Oxitec's genetically-modified mosquitoes do not have any significant impact or negative effects on the environment, the FDA said.
Hadyn Parry, CEO of Oxitec which is a subsidiary of American company Intrexon Corp., said the A. aegypti mosquito is a huge threat to human health, especially because it is a carrier of Zika, dengue and chikungunya.
"This mosquito is non-native to the U.S. and difficult to control," said Parry.
The Oxitec CEO said current methods are only able to reduce the mosquito's population by up to 50 percent, and it is not enough.
In a 2014 interview, Parry said diseases such as dengue have grown 30-fold in the last half century, but the larvicides and insecticides used now is still the same as the ones used 50 years ago. The genetically-modified mosquitoes will improve that.
"If we do get permission from the FDA to go ahead, we are hoping that we will start running the program sometime in 2016," he said. Adding that the company looks forward to protecting the people from A. aegypti and the diseases it spreads.
The trial will then determine the efficacy of OX513A for controlling the local mosquito population of A. aegypti in Monroe County, Florida.
Incidentally, trials in Piracicaba, Brazil revealed that the OX513A mosquito reduced the population of wild Aedes mosquito by 82 percent.
"This is a powerful and versatile tool that can dramatically reduce the levels of infestation, which is the core of Brazil's prevention strategy right now," said Glenn Slade, the company's business development director in Brazil.
However, even though genetically-modified mosquitoes show promising results, some believe that wiping out the entire mosquito population provokes ecological concerns.
A Change.org petition by Key West resident Mila de Mier urges the FDA not to approve the genetically-altered mosquitoes.
In the meantime, anyone can submit comments or suggestions regarding the matter for the next 30 days beginning March 14.
Photo: Ministério da Cultura | Flickr