Are genetically-modified mosquitoes the remedy for Zika?

Posted at 11:24 AM, Aug 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-18 11:22:37-04

MIAMI — Are you as tired of Zika as we are?  Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration approved something that just might put an end to it altogether — a sort of bionic mosquito.

A British company called Oxitec has bio-engineered a mosquito with a self-limiting gene that causes offspring to die.

"So every single male we put out there only does one of two things," Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry told CCTV America, "It either finds a female and mates, in which case the offspring die, and it dies. Or it doesn't find a female, in which case it dies anyway."

Some Floridians are questioning what effect these man-made bugs will have on the ecosystem.

Health officials around the country are also watching closely, including Houston's own Dr. David Persse, public health authority with the city.

"I think any time when we are doing things which could potentially manipulate nature, we need to be very careful," he said. "In this particular case, these mosquitoes have been released in the wild in other communities, and we've not seen problems that have resulted over following generations."

Field tests in Brazil and the Cayman Islands were big successes, killing off 90 percent of Zika carriers.

"Mosquitoes in the wild don't live very long. They only live a couple of weeks," Persse said.  "So once these genetically modified mosquitoes are out, they should interrupt the reproduction cycle of the mosquitoes in that area and then they're gonna die off. And so I think that will have much less of a negative impact than would widespread insecticide spraying."

That's what they have been doing in the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood (a hot spot for Zika cases in the U.S.), spraying a chemical called Naled.

"It's been banned in 22 countries as a toxic poison," a Wynwood protester said earlier this week. "They're dumping it on your heads three times a week."

Naled is known to cause paralysis in dogs and is toxic to bees and fish, according to Hence, the protests.

So maybe man-modified mosquitoes are worth a try. Hey, they can't be worse than potential paralysis!