Florida County Votes to Allow Controversial GMO Mosquito Test

PHOTO: Mosquitoes are created in a lab with a "self-limiting" gene. PlayOxitec Ltd.
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A Florida county has cleared the way for the first U.S. test using genetically modified mosquitoes to fight against the species that spreads Zika virus.

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Monroe County, Florida, voted to allow a test of GMO mosquitoes created by the British biotech company Oxitec.

Oxitec has created genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, adding genes to the same insects that transmit Zika virus.

The GMO variety passes on genetic traits to their offspring that cause them to die in the wild, dramatically reducing the overall population of the mosquitoes. They have conducted tests in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil and have wanted to do a test run in the U.S. since 2010.

While the county voted in a non-binding referendum to allow a test, one last hurdle remains since the neighborhood where the test was expected to occur, called Key Haven, voted against it. The final decision will be made by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board in a meeting later this month.

Derek Nimmo, the senior scientist for the Oxitec trial, said they were happy to get a majority of yes votes in Monroe County.

"Obviously we're very pleased with the results," Nimmo told ABC News today of the 57 percent vote to allow the experimental trial.

The GMO mosquito test came under intense scrutiny earlier this year after residents of Key Haven and nearby islands in the Florida Keys expressed concern and protested the potential trial. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the trial.

The Florida Key Mosquito Control Board will make the final decision on where and if the trail will be held in the county.

Since the neighborhood of Key Haven voted against the trial, Nimmo said Oxitec has alternate sites where they may conduct the trial in the county. The new sites would have to be approved by the FDA. Once approved, Nimmo estimates they could start the trial as soon as next February.