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Scientists Release 20 Million Mosquitoes


This summer, scientists in California are releasing 20 million laboratory grown mosquitoes in an effort to shrink the population of mosquitoes that can carry diseases.
The plan is to release millions of sterile male mosquitoes, which will then mate with wild female mosquitoes. The eggs the females lay won’t hatch, researchers say.
The project is called Debug Fresno and is being undertaken by Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s holding company. It’s the company’s first field study involving sterile mosquitoes in the U.S.
Scientists say the goal is to cut the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the species responsible for spreading Zika, dengue and chikungunya. Aedes aegypti have been present in California’s Central Valley since 2013 and have been a problem in Fresno County.
“It’s a terrible nuisance, a terrible biting nuisance. It’s changed the way people can enjoy their back yard and it’s a threat for disease transmission,” Steve Mulligan of Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District told The Washington Post.
Each week for 20 weeks, the company plans to release 1 million of the sterile, non-biting male mosquitoes in two neighbourhoods in Fresno County. The male mosquitoes are bred and infected with Wolbachia, a bacterium which is “naturally found in at least 40 percent of all insect species,” according to The Scientist magazine, though it’s normally not found in Aedes aegypti.
“Over time, we hope to see a steep decline in the presence of Aedes aegypti in these communities,” Verily says in a statement.
In a phenomenon called cytoplasmic incompatibility, “matings between Wolbachia-infected males and uninfected females results in embryo lethality or low hatch rates,” William Sullivan and Scott L. O’Neill write in the journal Nature.
“Because the effect of Wolbachia infection on insect reproduction favours the survival of Wolbachia-infected females over uninfected females, Wolbachia can rapidly spread through an insect population.”
Wolbachia also helps mosquitoes to avoid carrying diseases like Zika in the first place. Aedes aegypti “carrying Wolbachia bacteria were highly resistant to Zika virus infection, and were unable to transmit the virus via their saliva,” The Scientist writes, citing a 2016 study in Brazil.
The magazine says the bacterium “is not known” to infect humans.

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