Emily Waltz in Nature:
After a decade of fighting for regulatory approval and public acceptance, a biotechnology firm has released genetically engineered mosquitoes into the open air in the United States for the first time. The experiment, launched this week in the Florida Keys — over the objections of some local critics — tests a method for suppressing populations of wild Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
…Aedes aegypti makes up about 4% of the mosquito population in the Keys, a chain of tropical islands off the southern tip of Florida. But it is responsible for practically all mosquito-borne disease transmitted to humans in the region, according to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), which is working closely with Oxitec on the project. Researchers and technicians working on the project will release bioengineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which don’t bite, to mate with the wild female population, responsible for biting prey and transmitting disease. The genetically engineered males carry a gene that passes to their offspring and kills female progeny in early larval stages. Male offspring won’t die but instead will become carriers of the gene and pass it to future generations. As more females die, the Aedes aegypti population should dwindle.
…In late April of this year, project researchers placed boxes containing Oxitec’s mosquito eggs at six locations in three areas of the Keys. The first males are expected to emerge within the first two weeks of May. About 12,000 males will exit the boxes each week over the next 12 weeks. In a second phase later this year, intended to collect even more data, nearly 20 million mosquitoes will emerge over a period of about 16 weeks, according to Oxitec.