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Florida Keys Project - Working together on a new solution to reduce mosquito populations

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and British-based Oxitec hope to initiate a preventative program to use genetically modified mosquitoes to control Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

Why is the program being developed?

The current method of mosquito control in the Florida Keys is aerial and ground spraying of insecticide and larvicide. Though current means have been highly effective, FKMCD is exploring new tools to significantly reduce mosquito populations, specifically Aedes aegypti, using fewer chemicals that can adversely affect beneficial insects. Aedes aegypti mosquitos are non-native to the United States. They are a nuisance and have the potential to spread vector-borne illnesses such as chikungunya, dengue or Zika fever.

How does the program work?

FKMCD is collaborating with Oxitec, a biotech company, on a field trial to control Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in a sustainable, environmentally responsible and cost-effective way. Oxitec scientists have engineered a strain of the male Aedes aegypti mosquito that targets itself to help control the species. Those genetically modified male mosquitoes, which cannot bite or spread potential diseases, are released to mate with unmodified females. Few of the subsequent offspring survive, resulting in dramatically reduced local populations of Aedes aegypti, according to Oxitec.

When and where will it start?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine is working with other agencies to regulate the project, which includes the use of nontoxic and nonallergenic proteins in its genetic technology. On Aug. 5, 2016, the FDA approved a test program for Key Haven, a residential area near, but separated from, Key West. The FDA's environmental assessment found that the "proposed field trial will not have significant impacts on the environment." However, the program is on the Nov. 8, 2016, Monroe County election ballot as a non-binding referendum for Keys voters to decide. It is not known if or exactly when the trial will begin.

What is the potential for success of the program?

In the Cayman Islands and Brazil where the technology has been used, the local Aedes aegypti mosquito population was reduced by 90 percent or more, according to Oxitec. Other independent entities disagree with those claims and the effectiveness to thwart mosquito-borne viruses.

What is the possibility something can go wrong?

Oxitec and FKMCD claim the technology is self-limiting, so once released mosquitoes and their offspring die they do not remain in the environment. The releases can be stopped at any time, and once they are, Oxitec-modified mosquitoes are eliminated.

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