FLORIDA KEYS — A test project that could be used to locally battle the Zika virus and other tropical diseases, and the mosquitoes that carry them, has gained federal approval. However, the test still needs authorization by the Florida Department of Agriculture.

 The private company MosquitoMate Inc. has partnered with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District on a program that uses mosquitoes against themselves, but does not require genetic modification like a controversial plan the British company Oxitec has proposed in Key Haven, which has garnered vocal oppo


 MosquitoMate plans to release male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been infected with the bacterium wolbachia. According to the plan, the lab-reared males mate would then mate with wild females, and the wolbachia bacterium would be passed along to the females and to the eggs, Dobson said.

 The bacterium results in chromosomes in the bugs’ eggs not separating and the eggs not being able to hatch, company founder Stephen Dobson said.

 “The bacterium is genius in causing sterility,” Dobson said.

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave approval for the company and the district to conduct test releases in Key Largo and Stock Island. But the state still needs to sign off on the test.

 “We are very happy this is moving forward, but there are still other hurdles to clear,” Dobson said. This is not the only the project MosquitoMate is collaborating on with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. The company is wrapping up another test that uses mosquitoes against themselves.

 In that test, male mosquitoes, which do not bite, were dusted with pyriproxyfen, an insect hormone that is lethal to juvenile mosquitoes, Dobson said. The goal was to have the dusted males mate the wild females and contaminate them, which would in turn contaminate the breeding sites and eventually kill the offspring. 

The test releases called for about 10,000 male mosquitoes to be released each week for about six weeks, Dobson said.

 The tests come as the state is battling the mosquito-transferred Zika virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and is linked to the birth defect microcephaly in children whose mothers were exposed to the virus while pregnant. 

There have been roughly 800 cases of travel-related Zika virus in Florida. In response, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that he is authorizing an additional $10 million in state funds to fight Zika. Four travel-related cases have been documented in the Keys, with Big Pine Key being the latest location. 

In June, Scott used his emergency executive authority to authorize $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response in Florida from the state’s general revenue fund. Total state funds now authorized for Zika is $36.2 million.

 Florida Keys Mosquito Control District representatives plan to research if they can obtain some of that funding, district spokeswoman Beth Ranson said. tohara@keysnews.com