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Image credit: Trygg, Henrik

Verily's answer to Fresno's mosquito woes is 20 million more

It's releasing bacteria-infected mosquitoes to control wild populations.
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Trygg, Henrik

Last year, executives of Alphabet's life science arm, Verily, discussed a project aimed at controlling invasive mosquito populations, the results of which are now going into effect. To combat the mosquito species that carries viruses like Zika and dengue, the company will release a ton of bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in Fresno, California where they should drastically bring down numbers of wild mosquitoes.

When female mosquitoes mate with males infected with the bacteria Wolbachia pipientis, the resulting eggs aren't viable. However, females also infected with the bacteria can produce offspring after mating with infected males, and wild mosquitoes of both sexes are found to be infected in some regions of the country. However, because the bacteria isn't found in wild populations around Fresno and because the males can't transfer the bacteria to females, enough infected males and enough time should render the invasive species moot.

Starting now, Verily will release one million mosquitoes per week for 20 weeks in two Fresno neighborhoods as part of its Debug project. The company developed automated mass mosquito production and sex-sorting technology, allowing for much larger release efforts. These mosquitos are not genetically modified, though last year the FDA did approve the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to fight Zika, and male mosquitoes don't bite, so no worries, Fresno residents.

In a blog post, Verily said, "For the Debug team at Verily, moving our work from the laboratory to the field is not only an important milestone for our group of biologists, engineers, and automation experts, but it's also a critical step in bringing our long-term vision to reality. Field studies allow us to test our discoveries and technologies in challenging, real-world conditions and collect the necessary evidence to bring them to a broader scale."

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