FDA Tentatively OKs Gene-Modified Mosquito Test
Agency says testing the insects in Florida Keys poses little risk to people, animals and the environment
By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, March 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials on Friday gave tentative approval to a field test in the Florida Keys of mosquitoes genetically tweaked to help curb the spread of the Zika virus.
Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said they made the preliminary determination that the test of the genetically engineered insects poses little harm to people, animals or the environment, The New York Times reported.
But, final approval for the trial won't come until the FDA considers comments from the public, which is likely to take months, the newspaper said.
The mosquitoes -- which have already been the subject of controversy among Florida residents -- are being developed by a British company, Oxitec. The company says male mosquitoes can pass along a gene during mating with wild females that causes premature death in offspring -- potentially lowering mosquito populations.
It is thought that introducing the modified mosquitoes into the wild might curb the spread of serious mosquito-borne illnesses, such as the Zika and dengue viruses. Tests similar to the one proposed in Florida have already shown success in reducing mosquito numbers in Brazil and other countries, the Times reported.
However, introduction of the gene-modified insects has met with opposition from some residents in the Key West area, who worry about unexpected consequences, the Times noted.
The FDA recently expedited the approval process for Oxitec's mosquito, due to the expected arrival of Zika-carrrying mosquitoes in Florida as the weather warms. The agency's decision on Friday is based on a 300-page draft environmental assessment submitted to the FDA by Oxitec, the Times said.
The decision comes one day after U.S. health officials issued a worrisome assessment on the continued spread of the Zika virus. The pathogen is already suspected of causing thousands of birth defects in Brazil and has made inroads into Puerto Rico.
Federal researchers said Thursday that they learning much about the virus. But the more they learn, the more they realize how much they don't know, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a morning media briefing.