A British company hopes American regulators will approve its genetically-engineered mosquito that could help wipe out Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Charleston and all across the nation.
Charleston is a well-known home to the Aedes species, which are known to carry the Zika virus. There are still no reported cases of the Zika virus in South Carolina, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 41 states with confirmed cases, in addition to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.
The virus is not known to cause any major complications in adults beyond mild fever, but the issue is when pregnant mothers become affected. While a conclusive link is not yet established, researchers are concerned about an apparent increase in birth defects among infants born to mothers who test positive for the virus.
Oxitec genetically engineers male mosquitoes that can pass on a gene which kills off any offspring before they reach adulthood (male mosquitoes also do not bite humans). The modified mosquitoes have previously been used in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands. The company says those test results show the Aedes population was reduced by 90 percent in the testing areas.
“We release the males,” Oxitec CEO Haydon Perry told South Carolina Radio Network. “They go out and look for females and then all the offspring will die.”
The altered mosquitoes have a color that researchers can see. “Which means really that we’ve got a track and trace on every single mosquito we release and their offspring,” Perry said.
The Food and Drug Administration is still in the approval process for the genetically modified mosquitoes. Oxitec is seeking permission to begin a trial run in the US. The company would need to get a second approval from the federal agency before deploying the mosquitoes after the pilot project.