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FDA Gives Tentative Approval to Tests of Gene-Modified Mosquitos

Agency says testing the insects in Florida Keys poses little risk to people, animals, the environment

aedes aegypti mosquito
Aedes aegypti mosquito, which may carry the Zika virus or dengue fever. Photo courtesy CDC.

MONDAY, March 14, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials on Friday gave tentative approval to a field test in the Florida Keys of mosquitoes genetically modified to help curb the spread of the Zika virus.

Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said they made the preliminary determination that the test of the genetically engineered insects poses little harm to people, animals, or the environment, The New York Times reported. But, final approval for the trial won't come until the FDA considers comments from the public, which is likely to take months, the newspaper said.

The mosquitoes -- which have already been the subject of controversy among Florida residents -- are being developed by a British company, Oxitec. The company says male mosquitoes can pass along a gene during mating with wild females that causes premature death in offspring -- potentially lowering mosquito populations.

The FDA recently expedited the approval process for Oxitec's mosquito, due to the expected arrival of Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Florida as the weather warms. The agency's decision on Friday is based on a 300-page draft environmental assessment submitted to the FDA by Oxitec, the Times said.

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