Florida Keys

Keys doctor still wants to swab noses in GM bug trial

In this Feb. 1, 2016 photo, a technician from the British biotec company Oxitec, inspects the pupae of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, a vector for transmitting the Zika virus, in Campinas, Brazil. The company said tests begun last April as part of a dengue-fighting program in the small southeastern city of Piracicaba suggested the release of the GM males reduced the wild Aedes larvae population in the target neighborhood by more than 80 percent. Brazil is in the midst of a Zika outbreak and authorities say they have also detected a spike in cases of microcephaly in newborn children, but the link between Zika and microcephaly is as yet unproven.
In this Feb. 1, 2016 photo, a technician from the British biotec company Oxitec, inspects the pupae of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, a vector for transmitting the Zika virus, in Campinas, Brazil. The company said tests begun last April as part of a dengue-fighting program in the small southeastern city of Piracicaba suggested the release of the GM males reduced the wild Aedes larvae population in the target neighborhood by more than 80 percent. Brazil is in the midst of a Zika outbreak and authorities say they have also detected a spike in cases of microcephaly in newborn children, but the link between Zika and microcephaly is as yet unproven. AP

Wherever genetically modified mosquitoes are released in the Florida Keys next year, a Key West doctor will follow — with cotton swabs.

Dr. John Norris III in September told the Keynoter he wants consent to monitor the health of Keys residents over several years to see what effect a release of GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will have on humans. Norris still wants to swab the noses of people who live in the trial area, wherever that may be, when the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District chooses a site for the spring 2017 release.

Pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, the trial will happen in one of six places under consideration by the district, according to Director Andrea Leal. District commissioners signed a contract with Biotech company Oxitec on Nov. 19.

Oxitec raises GM mosquitoes in a lab and says when released and after mating, the offspring die almost immediately, resulting in a smaller population of Aedes aegypti, which carry Zika and other viruses.

“If they’re saying they’ve created the perfect life form in version 1.0, I find that hard to believe,” Norris said of Oxitec’s mosquitoes.

They are genetically engineered to need the antibiotic tetracycline to survive, he said. Since bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics after exposure to too much or too little, the surviving bacteria could become even more powerful and resistant to medicine down the road.

“I want to see, if there are resistant bugs, does the resistance spread to the human population?” Norris told the Keynoter. The nasal swabs would track the bacterial count of residents living in GM mosquito-populated areas, which Norris said has never been done.

The swabs would be sent to Dr. Barry Kreiswirth, professor and director of the Laboratory for Molecular Drug Resistance at Rutgers University in New Jersey, for examination. The Oxitec trial will last for a maximum two years but the swab research could last from three to five years if it happens.

Norris wants to catch GM mosquitoes at the future trial site for his own examination and he’s trying to garner support from the Monroe County Medical Society in the form of a petition to the Mosquito Control District.

“Hopefully I’ll have more than 100 signatures by the end of the year,” Norris said of the doctors who want Oxitec’s mosquitoes cultured to determine what kinds of antibiotic-resistant bacteria they may carry before they’re released into the Florida Keys.

He also wants a letter of support from the Florida Medical Association asking the Mosquito Control District to not release Oxitec mosquitoes without being cultured first.

“It’s not to stop the release. I just want them to test the bugs before they release them and factor in any resistant germs,” Norris said.

Fight mosquitoes inside and outside with a few simple tips. Remember to cover windows with screens, remove standing water, and cover your skin with long sleeves shirt and pants. And don't forget insect repellent.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

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