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Texas county considering GM mosquitoes to fight Zika virus

Press Trust of India  |  Houston 

In a controversial move, authorities in a county in Texas are considering the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to fight the Zika virus, that can have devastating effects on a foetus's development.

Officials in Harris County in the state of Texas are considering an approach that's been developed by British biotech firm Oxitec, that would introduce genetically modified mosquitoes to the Houston area whose offspring would die soon after birth.

"Oxitec uses advanced genetics to insert a self-limiting gene into its mosquitoes," the company's website states.

"The gene is passed on to the insect's offspring, so when male Oxitec engineered mosquitoes are released into the wild and mate with wild females, their offspring inherit the self-limiting trait. The resulting offspring will die before reaching adulthood, and the local mosquito population will decline."

The method is controversial, and some residents in other areas that have proposed using genetically modified mosquitoes against Zika, such as in the Florida Keys, have protested against the practice, warning that it could change the ecosystem in detrimental ways.

However, most scientists do not agree.

There have been no documented cases of Zika being locally transmitted in the Houston region.

The only homegrown Zika case in Texas have been in Cameron County, on the border with Mexico.

Mustapha Debboun, director of the Harris County Mosquito Control Division, told reporters that working with Oxitec could provide another tool in the fight against Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus, dengue fever and chikungunya, among other deadly illnesses, are common in the Houston region.

Deric Nimmo, principal scientist at Oxitec, called "the release of mosquitoes to control mosquitoes" an important change in the approach.

Oxitec has conducted field trials in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands and says it has reduced the Aedes mosquito populations by up to 90 per cent in each location.

In August, the Food and Drug Administration gave approval to a proposed field trial in Key Haven, a Florida Keys suburb, finding that it would have no significant impacts on human health, animal health or the environment.

Residents in Monroe County, Florida, voted in a nonbinding resolution in favour of working with Oxitec.

But Key Haven residents voted nearly 2-to-1 in November against the trial.

Oxitec would have to submit an environmental assessment to the FDA, if it wants to conduct a field trial in Texas Harris County.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, March 21 2017. 13:57 IST