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Like a Bug Swatter, But Not At All

By saying that genetically modified mosquitoes are unlikely to have an detrimental effect on the environment, the US Food and Drug Administration has opened to door for a field test of the insects, according to the New York Times.

The British company Oxitec, which was purchased by Intrexon last year, developed the mosquitoes to control dengue fever. But as dengue is spread by Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that spreads the Zika virus, interest in using this approach to control Zika has also been piqued. Male bugs are engineered so that after they mate with wild female mosquitoes, the resulting offspring dies before reaching adulthood and the population is suppressed.

The FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, which oversees genetically modified organisms, says that as male mosquitoes don't bite, they are unlikely to cause harm to people. In addition, the agency says that if the A. aegypti population is reduced, that it also seems unlikely that another type of mosquito with move.

This, the Times say, may enable Oxitec to go forward with a field test in Key Haven, Fla., though final approval for the test will likely take months as public comments are assessed. Some residents in the area have expressed opposition to such testing.

Oxitec is also seeking to perform testing in Puerto Rico, which has reported cases of Zika, and in the Southeast, the Associated Press adds.

The company has already conducted tests in Brazil, where it says the use of their bugs can lead to a 90 percent drop in mosquito population size.