A trial of genetically altered mosquitoes that was to occur in the Florida Keys has been put on hold due to opposition from residents, NPR's Shots Blog reports. One resident tells NPR that the mosquitoes are an unproven technology that could have unanticipated effects on the environment and people.
Because of that opposition, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District hasn't approved the trial and is putting it to a non-binding referendum on the November ballot, NPR adds. Still, the director of the agency says that British company Oxitec's mosquito control approach appears to work better than their current method of spraying pesticides.
Oxitec has genetically modified male mosquitoes so that when they mate with wild female mosquitoes, the resulting offspring die before reaching adulthood. The US Food and Drug Administration has given Oxitec the OK to conduct field trials of the mosquitoes in the US, and the company was aiming to test them in the Florida Keys.
While there are no reports that mosquitoes in the Florida Keys carry the Zika virus, they have been linked to a previous dengue virus outbreak there, NPR says. However, Zika has been found in nearby Miami. If Oxitec gets the local go-ahead, the earliest they could test the mosquitoes would be in the spring, according to NPR. In the meantime, the company may deploy them in Puerto Rico and potentially, on an emergency basis elsewhere.