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The FDA Just Approved Genetically Modified, Zika-Fighting Mosquitoes for Release in Florida

APTOPIX Brazil Zika VirusAPTOPIX Brazil Zika Virus
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, on January 27, 2016. Photograph by Felipe Dana — AP

The FDA just approved field testing for another way to combat Zika, as the threat continues to spread: genetically modified versions of the blood-sucking critters that propagate the disease.

The administration gave Biotech company Oxitec the green light Friday, allowing the firm to release its genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. The method is not yet approved for commercial use. According to the FDA, the treatment would have “no significant impact” on the release area.

Though before Oxitec can go ahead with its plan, it still needs to gain approval from the the local residents. Key Haven, Fla. Residents will be able vote on the proposal to release the mosquitoes in November.

The mutant mosquitoes, which would be released as part of a field trial, are all male Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes—the species that can transmit Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and a host of other diseases. Oxitec has tweaked their batch so that should their male mosquito and a wild female one reproduce, any offspring from the union would die before reaching reproductive age.

The insects would be released up to three times a week, over a period of up to 22 months during the trials—the idea being a smaller diseased mosquito population would equal lower chances of the virus spreading.

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According to Oxitec, the firm has already tested the modified mosquitoes in Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands, which successfully wiped out at least 90% of the wild population there.

Anxiety about the disease has been growing in the past few months, and continued to rise after 15 people in Florida were reportedly infected with Zika as of Tuesday. Those cases were reported despite aggressive efforts in Miami to control its mosquito population, which included pesticides and was joined on Thursday by insecticide.