Wolbachia trial site narrowed down

A trial release of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in the Lower Keys will happen in April in the southeastern region of Stock Island.

According to Beth Ranson, public information officer for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, 20,000 males infected with Wolbachia will be released twice a week in the 10-acre area south of Grunt Street to Peninsular Avenue.

Males, which do not bite and do not transmit diseases, will be released for 12 weeks and mate with wild females to produce eggs that do not hatch.

Dr. Stephen Dobson, founder and CEO of biotech company MosquitoMate, recently told Mosquito Control District commissioners how the trial will be carried out to drive down the local population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry Zika and other viruses.

The natural bacteria is found in almost 50 percent of insects. Dobson said generations of mosquitoes born with Wolbachia have been reared at MosquitoMate’s Kentucky lab.

MosquitoMate received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October to use Wolbachia in the Florida Keys trial. U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval was not necessary for MosquitoMate because the trial involves mosquitoes infected with a biological agent, not a genetic agent, Ranson said.

“We are looking forward to working with MosquitoMate as we continue to investigate new tools in the fight against this important disease vector,” said Mosquito Control District Executive Director Andrea Leal.

A trial site has yet to be selected for the release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes by British biotech company Oxitec, but officials have said it will need to be far away from the Wolbachia trial site. Oxitec’s males are genetically engineered to produce offspring that die quickly. The trial is pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

A community information event about Wolbachia is set for Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Mosquito Control offices, 5224 College Road on Stock Island. No presentation is planned but staff members will be on hand to answer questions.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219