On August 30th, the EPA granted the University of Kentucky permission to perform a field trial of Wolbachia mosquitoes in the Florida Keys in conjunction with the Mosquito Control District. This represents a major move forward in safer, non-GMO mosquito abatement techniques.
Wolbachia are bacteria that live on insects but don’t affect human beings. When mosquitoes mate which are infected with Wolbachia, their offspring are sterile. Even more importantly, mosquitoes with the bacteria can’t carry Zika, dengue, or yellow fever or transmit them to human beings.
Unlike GMO mosquitoes, the Wolbachia solution actively reduces the total mosquito population over time. Previous studies have shown that 6 months after Wolbachia releases were discontinued, a majority of the local Aedes aegypti mosquito still had the bacteria.
The University study will release 2,400,000 Wolbochia-infected mosquitoes in the Florida Keys in the last 6 months of 2016, and the same number over a 6 month period in 2017. The EPA document granting the test permission is far more stringent in its requirements than the proposed GMO mosquito test from Oxitec. It requires extensive follow-up testing and proof of the mosquitoes’ efficacy.
Because Wolbachia is bacterial and not genetically modified, its easier to control and less risky than GMO mosquitoes. We’re excited about this new option for the Florida Keys and looking forward to hearing more from the Mosquito District about how they plan to conduct this test.
We do know that the mosquitoes will be raised to adulthood in Kentucky (not Marathon) in the University’s laboratory. The District must give the EPA 72 hours’ notice before any release. We’ll find out more in the coming days about the specifics, so stay tuned for more good news on this safer option!