The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that a field trial testing Intrexon Corp’s genetically engineered mosquitoes, meant to be used in the battle against Zika, would not have a significant impact on the environment.
The company wants to conduct a trial in the Florida Keys to assess the effectiveness of the genetically modified mosquitoes in reducing populations of Aedes mosquitoes, which can spread diseases including Zika, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.
Florida began aerial spraying on Thursday to kill mosquitoes in a Miami neighborhood with the first U.S. spread of the Zika virus. Health authorities have identified 15 Zika cases spread by local mosquitoes and expect there may be more.
The mosquitoes are genetically altered so their offspring die before they can reproduce.
Trials in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands showed that Intrexon’s mosquitoes can reduce localized Aedes aegypti populations by more than 90 percent.
The current Zika outbreak was first detected last year in Brazil, where it has been linked to more than 1,700 cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.
The virus has spread rapidly through the Americas and Caribbean and its arrival in the continental United States, where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes thrive in the warmer southern states, had been widely anticipated.
The GM mosquito strain is made by Oxitec, a spin-off company from Oxford University that is now a UK subsidiary of U.S. based Intrexon.