[Environment] GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOS) : INSECTS: MOSQUITOES : MEDICAL: DISEASES: ZIKA VIRUS: Fighting Zika in the US: The Battle Over GMO Mosquitoes
David P. Dillard
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOS) :
INSECTS: MOSQUITOES :
MEDICAL: DISEASES: ZIKA VIRUS:
Fighting Zika in the US: The Battle Over GMO Mosquitoes
Fighting Zika in the US: The Battle Over GMO Mosquitoes
By GILLIAN MOHNEY AND JUSTINE QUART
July 9, 2016, 7:00 AM ET
A shorter URL for the above link:
Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease linked to devastating birth defects, is expanding throughout Central and South America and creeping north toward the U.S., in what the World Health Organization has called a global health emergency.
The sleepy community of Key Haven has been identified by one company as the perfect spot to experiment with a controversial method of combating Zika before it reaches U.S. shores a method that has divided neighbors and could have broad implications across the country.
Whats dividing members of the community: releasing genetically modified mosquitoes, with Key Haven as the possible testing ground.
The proposed test has riled up some residents in the Florida Keys. Many say they dont want to be guinea pigs for an experimental technology that could fly into their homes. Others, like Greager, support the idea.
Weve got to stop that Zika virus from being a flash fire coming through us to the rest of the country, he said with a sense of urgency. And if they say it cant happen, they have no idea.
Neighbor Against Neighbor
Greagers quiet neighborhood has become a battleground, with neighbors facing off against each other over the possible use of genetically modified mosquitoes.
For decades, residents of the Florida Keys have been combating 45 species of mosquitoes that inhabit these islands. In recent years, the pesticides used have lost effectiveness against the mosquitoes, experts said, requiring more spraying and larvicide to control the populations.
The reason Key Haven was chosen as a possible testing ground for the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) predates the current Zika crisis. From 2009 to 2010, a mosquito species known as Aedes aegypti the same kind of mosquitoes that carries Zika sparked a dengue fever outbreak here that infected at least 88 people according to Florida Department of Health
Aedes aegypti is a bug seemingly built to spread disease. Jet black with white flecks, this species of mosquito has sparked waves of diseases, including dengue, Chikungunya and yellow fever, resulting in millions of deaths in human history.
And now Zika.
Already 191 people in Florida have been diagnosed with the disease, according to the Florida State Health Department. None were infected via mosquitoes in the U.S.
Able to live indoors and reproduce in a teaspoon of water, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are difficult insects to find and kill with traditional methods. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board, made up of five elected commissioners, is debating whether to allow a test of GMO mosquitoes in Key Haven, pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
But releasing lab-created animals into the environment to artificially lower a population has many people nervous in the Keys, especially in Key Haven.
Those against using GMO mosquitoes say that there is not enough data on releasing them and that they are concerned that releasing these insects into the wild could lead to unintended consequences.
The Mosquito Called OX513A
The creator of the GMO mosquitoes is the British biotech company Oxitec.
During the dengue outbreak in 2009, the head of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board at the time asked Oxitec to explore the possibility of sending its GMO mosquito to the Keys.
Oxitec calls its GMO mosquito OX513A.
The modified insects nearly all male are created and bred in a lab with a genetic variant. When these GMO mosquitoes mate with females in the wild, up to 97 percent of their offspring cant survive, according to Oxitec. If enough GMO mosquitoes are released and mate, the population eventually declines.
To create the specialized mosquitoes, two genes are added to the insect. One, called a self-limiting gene, makes the insect produce a protein that will essentially kill it unless its given tetracycline, a common antibiotic.
The second gene adds a red fluorescence to the insect which helps alert scientists that the insect is self-limiting. The males are released into the wild and live long enough to mate, passing the self-limiting gene to their offspring, which cannot survive without tetracycline.
In Brazil and Panama, where Oxitec trials have taken place, the local populations of Aedes aegypti have decreased by more than 90 percent, according to studies published in medical journals by Oxitec and its institutional partners.
The Food and Drug Administration is investigating if the technology is safe enough to conduct a field test and earlier this year said it reached a preliminary finding of no significant impact. This means it has not yet found evidence that the GMO mosquitoes would harm people or have a damaging effect on the environment.
In 2010, Oxitec built a lab in the mosquito board facility in Marathon, Florida, and started the daunting process to get FDA approval for OX513A.
Derric Nimmo, the trials senior scientist, has been going to the Keys since 2010 to oversee the Oxitec lab and shepherd the project through FDA approval.
The dangers from Zika, dengue and Chikungunya are very real, he said. The premise is, if you [keep] the mosquito under a certain level, you no longer get transmission of the disease.
Nimmo said he hopes Oxitecs previous studies in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and Panama, where tens of millions of mosquitoes have been released, will help people feel safe about the trial. The mosquitoes have been approved for use in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil, where the current Zika outbreak started.
Weve had no reports of any adverse effects on humans or the environment, he said of those trials. And we have given that information in the environmental assessment, and were hoping that that helps to allay fears and also to inform people that are much more dangers from Zika, dengue and Chikungunya than there are from this particular technology.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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