1 spot in Florida could use scientific method to fight Zika with genetics

Monroe County in Keys approved non-binding referendum


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At least one spot in Florida could be using a scientific new method to fight Zika with genetics. At least one segment of the Florida Keys would like to see a modified mosquito try to take out the harmful ones.

Monroe County in the Keys approved a non-binding referendum saying "yes" to genetically-modified mosquitoes in an effort to fight Zika.

About 58 percent of voters favored trying the modified mosquitoes to try to wipe out the insects that carry the disease. British company Oxitec would be breeding the bugs.

"People have said they wish to go ahead, and I think that’s good news, because it shows there's clear, public support for this approach," CEO Hadyn Parry said.

Experts said the altered mosquitoes could be a better alternative than spraying.

Florida State University biologist Joe Travis was part of a committee through the National Academy of Science that looked at genetic modification. He said it can be effective because it's so precise.

"The genetic targeting allows you to be very precise in what you affect and allows you to get at species that would be hard to get if you were spraying," Travis said. "If you think that this genetic modification is going to make some type of Frankenstein monster by accident, I don't think people need to worry about that."

The "yes" vote doesn't mean the mosquitoes are definitely going to be released. That will ultimately be up to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board.

"So this is really an effectiveness trial for the FDA, which will clear the way to making this more available both in Florida and Texas and Puerto Rico, etc.," Parry said.

The board has a meeting scheduled for Nov. 19.

The company estimates it could start tests with the altered mosquitoes in early 2017.