Across the United States, independent polls indicate that there is strong public support for the use of genetically engineered mosquitoes to help fight diseases like Zika. Three recent independent studies conducted by Purdue University,1 the Associated Press,2 and the University of Pennsylvania3 all revealed that the majority support the use of this approach nationally.
The reality is that Aedes aegypti, and specifically female Aedes aegypti, which transmit dangerous diseases like Zika, chikungunya, dengue, and yellow fever, are no stranger to the continental United States, as well as territories like Puerto Rico, which this invasive species now calls home.
Unfortunately in these places and many others across the world, traditional vector control solutions are not sufficiently effective for this dangerous mosquito.4 In fact, Aedes aegypti have already developed resistance to many common insecticides and as a result these are no longer effective.
In light of this, a more innovative mosquito control solution is critically needed. Oxitec is planning – pending US government approval – a field test in Key Haven, a small community outside of Key West. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently released a preliminary finding that this genetically engineered mosquito will have no significant impact on public health or the environment in this test.5
As part of the proposed test, scientists will release Oxitec’s genetically engineered non-biting male mosquitoes to mate with disease-transmitting wild Aedes aegypti females. After mating, the mosquitoes’ offspring inherit a gene that makes them die before reaching adulthood.
Oxitec’s solution has already shown promising results in controlling Aedes aegypti in places like Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands, where releases of the engineered mosquitoes have suppressed the wild population by more than 90% in less than a year.
4 Ranson H, Burhani J, Lumjuan N, and Black WC. (2010) Insecticide resistance in dengue vectors. TropIKA.net 1, 1-12.