In a bid to help cut the rate of disease transmission, Google’s sister company, Verily, is set to release 20 million bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in central California.
The release, planned as part of the life sciences division at Alphabet (the parent company of Google), is Verily’s attempt at curtailing the population of mosquitoes most likely to carry dangerous diseases within California including Aedes aegypti – known to be a vector for yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya, and even Zika.
It is important to note that while these diseases are not a current threat to people in California, it is predicted that they will be in the future. As the climate shifts, the mosquitoes and the diseases they carry will spread too.
The release, known as Debug Fresno, has taken place in Fresno with 1 million of the male mosquitoes having been released thus far. Verily is aiming to release 1 million every week for a total of 20 weeks.
The mosquitoes are not genetically modified, but rather, infected with a naturally occurring bacteria that makes some insects, such as the A. aegypti mosquito, sterile.
The bacteria is a parasitic microorganism known as Wolbachia pipientis, and is thought to be one of the most common pathogens on the planet to alter the reproductive system of insects.
Wolbachia pipientis was capable of infecting 76% of insects studied, although the degree of damage varied from species to species.
Once male mosquitoes are infected, they become sterile. It is hoped that if enough infected males are released into the wild, then all the males that wild females mate with will also be sterile thereby drastically reducing the mosquito population.
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