- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said it will give the public an extra month to weigh in on a British company’s request to release its genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, a trial aimed at slashing the number of insects that carry Zika virus.

Biotech company Oxitec cannot perform its field test until the FDA digests public input and makes a final ruling on the trial’s potential risk to humans and impact on the local environment.

The FDA said it will extend the deadline for public comment from April 13 to May 13, a “direct response” to members of the public who said they needed more than 30 days to weigh the pros and cons of the pioneering technology.

Last month, the agency issued preliminary findings that said the proposal did not appear to pose a significant risk to humans and the local environment.

“The FDA will thoroughly review all public comments and information submitted before determining its next steps,” the agency said.

Oxitec’s proposed trial is part of broader attempts to eradicate the pesky Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika, which is blanketing Latin America and spreading locally in Puerto Rico.

Though many people do not show symptoms, the virus has been linked to serious birth defects and a syndrome that can cause paralysis.

Oxitec says its modified male aegypti, which mate with wild females to produce offspring that do not survive into adulthood, were able to reduce wild mosquito larvae by about 90 percent during trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere.

Female mosquitoes usually do not seek new male partners after they’ve mated once in their short lifespans.

For its first U.S. trial, Oxitec would produce eggs of the modified mosquitoes in Oxford, England, and ship them to Marathon, Fla., for rearing in the lab before they are released in Key Haven, Fla.

Some local residents objected to the trial, saying they are being used as “guinea pigs” for a new technology. They say it is unclear if there will be unintended consequences of releasing millions of genetically modified insects into their community, either to human or the ecosystem, or if other mosquito breeds will come in and replace the aegypti population.

Oxitec says its technology is safe and targets an invasive species that shouldn’t be in Florida, anyway. It reserved meetings rooms at a hotel in Key West, Fla., to address the public’s concerns on Monday and Tuesday.

The World Health Organization recently called for additional field trials of genetically modified mosquitoes, as it prods Zika-affected nations to explore both old and new methods of mosquito control.

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