GOOGLE’S healthcare arm Verily is all set to release twenty million sterile male google mosquitoes created in laboratories in California.
The bizarre move is actually a good thing according to scientists, with the infected sterile pests being used to fight diseases such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya – a mosquito-borne viral disease transmitted to humans.
The mass pest release is part of the Debug Project – the biggest US study to set free mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia, a common reproductive parasite.
According to boffins, the idea is that the infected mosquitoes will try to mate with wild females, but the eggs laid will not hatch, leading to an overall decline in the mosquito population over time.
Researchers from Verily will team up with MosquitoMate – a private biotechnology company – and Fresno County’s mosquito control services, Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD), to compare the adult population density and number of eggs hatched to measure any changes.
The automated mass mosquito rearing has seen scientists at Verily sorting them by sex, before using algorithms to control on-the-ground devices that will release and distribute the male mosquitoes evenly over two neighbourhoods, each measuring around 300 acres in size.
The plan is to release one million mosquitoes each week over a 20-week period.
A similar, but smaller scale, programme was trialled by CMAD and MosquitoMate in 2016.
The new experiment alongside Verily involves 25 times more mosquitoes than the previous study.
Aedes aegypti – or yellow fever mosquitoes – were first spotted in central California in 2013.
An invasive species originating in Africa, it has since spread to other tropical and subtropical regions.
This specific mosquito is an effective vector for carrying diseases like dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya, with these blood-borne viruses reproduced in the mosquito’s stomach, spreading with bites.
These mosquitoes are likely to bite several times before they are full, increasing the chances of the disease spreading.
Females of this species lay a cluster of up to 200 eggs near water, up to five times during its lifetime, making it easy for the population to increase rapidly.