EPA Approves Plan to Release Infected Mosquitoes to Stop Zika

Henrietta Brewer
November 9, 2017

Attack of the killer mosquitoes - but thankfully, they're not after us.

ZAP Males target Asian Tiger mosquitoes and other species known to bite humans.

A biotech startup has just gotten approval from the FDA to unleash a new weapon against potentially risky mosquitoes.

A bio-tech start-up got the OK from the feds last Friday to release lab-grown skeeters in 20 states - including NY - an army of weaponized insects whose mission is to target wild, disease carrying mosquito populations, the journal Nature reported.

The mosquitoes are licensed to sell in 20 states, including New York, New Jersey, and CT, and Washington, D.C., for five years, but they must also be registered in those jurisdictions before they can be used. MosquitoMate will have a five-year license to sell in 20 different states and Washington, DC. The mosquitoes will be raised to contain the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis and the males are sorted out from the females. The company plans to release the first infected male mosquitoes next spring. These males will then mate with unsuspecting wild females and produce fertilized eggs that don't hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form correctly. Targeting the mosquito population of an entire city would require the weekly production of millions of the special mosquitoes. This bacteria is harmless to humans, but mosquitoes infected with it can no longer successfully breed. The fact that it was able to conduct tests in the Keys is promising enough, considering a United Kingdom firm called Oxitec failed to secure permission to test its genetically modified moquitoes in the area. The rest of the mosquitoes are sterilized with low-dose radiation that is just enough to only affect the females. Trials showed a greater than 80 percent reduction of the biting mosquito populations.

It sounds like a classic "mad scientist" plot, the sort that usually goes badly wrong - releasing diseased "lab grown" mosquitoes to kill off wild ones.

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