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Zika-Fighting GMO Mosquito Gets FDA Approval For Testing


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given a British company approval to test a new tool in the fight against Zika - genetically engineered mosquitoes. NPR's Greg Allen reports the first test may take place in the Florida Keys.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The company, Oxitec, first developed genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes more than a decade ago. Since then in trials conducted in Panama, the Cayman Islands and Brazil, the company says it's been able to reduce mosquito populations by 90 percent. CEO Hadyn Parry says Oxitec does this by releasing genetically engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes into the wild.

HADYN PARRY: They contain what we call a self-limiting gene, which means that when they go out, these males go out, and make the females, the offspring, die.

ALLEN: That 90 percent reduction compares favorably with insecticides, which Parry says typically reduce mosquito populations by 30 to 50 percent. After evaluating the technology, the FDA has approved field trials for a small community in Florida - Key Haven. But there, and in nearby Key West, there's significant opposition. Key Haven resident Kathryn Watkins says she's worried about the impact of the mosquitoes on human health. She also questions whether in the Keys a new technology for combating mosquitoes is needed.

KATHRYN WATKINS: Look back at 2010 when we had the dengue outbreak down here. How did we get rid of it? It was boots on the ground, community outreach, I mean, getting rid of where the breeding areas are.

ALLEN: Faced with community opposition, the Keys' mosquito control board is putting the question of whether to hold the GM mosquito trials on the ballot for voters in November. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.