FDA mulls altered-mosquito dengue control plan

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is deciding whether to allow thousands of genetically altered mosquitoes to be released in Key West, Florida, to fight the spread of dengue fever.

Some Key West residents are concerned that not enough research has been conducted into the potential ramifications to the Keys' ecosystem, according to Associated Press.

Mosquito control officials and the British company Oxitec plan to release non-biting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that can carry the virus. The males have been genetically altered to pass along a birth defect that kills any of their progeny before they reach adulthood.

Over several generations, scientists expect Key West's Aedes aegypti to dwindle along with the number of dengue infections.

"The science of it, I think, looks fine. It's straight from setting up experiments and collecting data," Michael Doyle, the head of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, said, reports.

The plan uses no pesticides and can be conducted on a large scale for a relatively low cost. Because the mosquitoes carrying the genetic defect die off, the modified mosquitoes will disappear without permanently altering the species.

As a species, Aedes agypti have shown remarkable resistance to mosquito control efforts, particularly to pesticides. The species is estimated to cost mosquito control programs approximately $1 million every year.

Not everyone is happy about the plan. Some residents, including Joel Biddle, himself a one-time dengue fever victim, are concerned about the project.

"Why the rush here?" Biddle said, Associated Press reports. "We already have test cases in the world where we can watch what is happening and make the best studies, because wouldn't it be wonderful if we could find out how it can be fail-safe - which it is not right now. It's an open Pandora's box."