Cayman Islands Using Genetically Modified Mosquitos to Fight Zika

Published July 13, 2016

Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes will be released in the Cayman Islands to fight a species of mosquito known to spread the Zika virus and other diseases, according to the an announcement by the government of the Cayman Islands.

The Cayman Islands government gave Oxitec, the British company that developed the mosquitos, approval to deploy them as an environmentally safe way, effective way to combat the mosquito-borne illnesses.

The company has already used its mosquitoes to fight Zika in Brazil and is considering trials in the Florida Keys, where it still needs approval from U.S. regulators.

Removing Pests has Been Difficult

The Cayman government approved full release the mosquitos on the Island after a successful, peer-reviewed trial in 2010.

Bill Petrie, director of the British territory’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit, said in a statement “We have wanted to remove this invasive pest for a long time but this has proven very difficult using currently available tools on an island the size of Grand Cayman, so we have been looking for new approaches.”

The Associated Press (AP) reports, Oxitec genetically modified male mosquitos so when they mate with females they produce offspring incapable of surviving to adulthood. Field tests have shown this dramatically reduces the population of the disease-spreading Aedes aegypti mosquito species.

‘Might Achieve Elimination’

Glen Slade, Oxitec’s head of business development, told the AP his company will begin releasing hundreds of thousands of modified mosquitoes per week on the island of Grand Cayman, home to about 50,000 people, starting in June and continue for at least nine months.

“It’s not unreasonable to think we might achieve elimination,” Slade said to the AP. 

Phil Goodman, chairman of the five-member Florida Keys Mosquito Control District board of commissioners, told the AP the decision to use Oxitec’s mosquitoes on Grand Cayman was good news for the prospects of a similar trial in Florida if it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“If everything continues to look good with this and we do get approval and the citizens agree to this, it’s what would work here in the Keys,” he said to the AP.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.