In July, the Zika virus spread to Florida. The outbreak prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue its first ever health-related travel advisory for the mainland United States: Because of the disease’s link to fetal birth defects, the agency warned pregnant women and women who may become pregnant to avoid certain Miami neighborhoods. Municipalities have tried to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, by spraying. This has proven ineffective, perhaps because the species has become resistant to the insecticides being used.
But all isn’t lost. There is another technology that could reduce the numbers of these deadly bugs. Developed by the British company Oxitec, the genetically engineered Friendly™ GMO mosquitoes could be deployed to spread a gene that is lethal to the larva of the disease-carrying pests. In Brazil, the release of Oxitec’s mosquitoes reduced the transmission of dengue fever by more than 90 percent.
The same week the Florida outbreak started, the Cayman Islands government approved the release of these insects to control the Zika virus there. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration, bowing to the demands of anti-biotech activists, waited more more than five years to finally approve them in August.