Houston considers genetically modified mosquitoes to fight Zika virus
Officials are considering releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in Houston as part of the fight against the insects known to carry diseases such as the Zika virus.
The Houston Chronicle has reported that Harris County officials are negotiating with a British biotech company, Oxitec, to release mosquitoes that have been geneti- cally engineered to produce offspring that die.
Oxitec has yet to try out its technology in the U.S. A proposed trial in the Florida Keys never got off the ground last year amid residents’ concerns about genetic engineering.
No documented cases of Zika locally transmitted have been reported in the Houston region. The only homegrown Zika cases in Texas were in Cameron County, on the bor- der with Mexico.
Mustapha Debboun, direc- tor of the Harris County mosquito control division, said working with Oxitec could provide another tool in the fight against Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus, dengue fever and chikun- gunya, among other deadly illnesses, are common in the Houston region.
Deric Nimmo, principal scientist at Oxitec, called “the release of mosquitoes to control mosquitoes” an important change in the approach.
Oxitec has conducted field trials in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands and says it has reduced the Aedes mos- quito populations by up to 90 percent in each location.
In August, the Food and Drug Administration approved a proposed field trial in Key Haven in the Florida Keys, finding that it would have no significant impact on human health, animal health or the environment. Residents in Florida’s Monroe County voted in a nonbinding resolution in favor of working with Oxitec. But Key Haven residents voted nearly 2-to-1 in November against the trial.
According to the FDA, if Oxitec wanted a trial in Harris County, the company would have to submit an environmental assessment to the agency.