Hous­ton con­sid­ers ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied mos­qui­toes to fight Zika virus

Austin American-Statesman - - MONEY & MARKETS -

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.

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