Researchers in the Cayman Islands believe genetically altered mosquitos they breed can help fight the Zika virus.

The Cayman Islands government is documenting the process and the researchers recently received approval from a judge to release the mosquitos.

“In those trays we can see pupae and larvae,” said Dr. Renaud Lacroix of Oxitec, the British biotechnology company breeding the mosquitos. “We receive the eggs directly from UK and then we hatch them here.”

Technicians separate the males from the females once the eggs hatch, and release only the males into the environment.

“We release males that cannot bite or transmit diseases,” Lacroix said. “They mate with females and those females lay eggs… Those eggs hatch into larvae which don’t develop into adults.”

Since those larvae don’t develop, the mosquito population goes down.

“What we want to do is to reduce the mosquito population and thereby reduce the risk of local transmission of the disease,” Dr. William Petrie, Director of Cayman Islands Mosquito Control.

The islands have been hit with mosquito borne illnesses like Chikungunya and dengue fever, and have had cases of travel-related Zika.

“We are surrounded by countries with Zika, so we are faced with a public health threat,” Petrie said. “We are watching very carefully what’s going on in Miami.”

The Mosquito Control officials had to go to a judge to receive approval for releasing the mosquitos after local activists fought them on it.

“The judge who heard the hearing decided that the public health imperative was more important than a private agenda,” Petrie said.

More than 168,000 people have signed a petition protesting the release of genetically altered mosquitos.

Lacroix said those fears are unfounded, because genetically modified insects have been used before.

“With our technologies is a new tool to either treat the whole area or just focus on some hotspots where the problem occur,” Lacroix said. “And that could be a way to deal with the kind of problem they are facing in Miami now… to treat a small area to make sure that area is protected.”

It takes weeks or even months to see a reduction in the population using the genetically altered mosquitos, however, there are no plans to use them in Miami-Dade or Broward Counties at the moment.

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