By Katie Atkins

The final step was taken Friday to bring Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to the Florida Keys when a transfer agreement received unanimous approval from the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board.

The trial release will take place in March 2017 when roughly 100,000 male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with Wolbachia will be released every week for six months into one-acre trial areas in the Upper Keys. They will be shipped from Kentucky.

Biotech company MosquitoMate Inc., working through the University of Kentucky, received approval earlier this month from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to try to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Florida Keys using mosquitoes infected with the natural bacteria Wolbachia.

MosquitoMate already received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use Wolbachia in efforts to prevent the virus that can cause birth defects in the newborns of women and flu-like symptoms for others.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry Zika, are not naturally infected with the Wolbachia bacteria. So if a female Aedes aegypti mates with a male that has Wolbachia, her eggs will not hatch.

“Within the next month or so, we’ll be doing site selections,” said Andrea Leal, director of the Mosquito Control District. “Then we’ll get into an educational program and all that goes with this project.”

Leal said Key Largo would be a good location for the no-cost trial because it’s far enough away from Key Haven, where British biotech company Oxitec could possibly release genetically modified mosquitoes in spring 2017 in its own effort to reduce the Aedes aegypti population.