Nobody likes mosquitoes. They bite, they can carry diseases, and are extremely difficult to control. But Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, is attempting to reduce the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes around the world with Project Debug. To start with, they are experimenting in California with Debug Fresno.
Verily is working with MosquitoMate and Fresno County's Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD) to target one specific type of mosquito: Aedes Aegypti, a very aggressive invasive mosquito species capable of carrying a number of diseases including dengue fever, the Zika virus, and Chikungunya.
Wiping out a species of mosquito is very difficult to do, but Verily believes it has come up with a solution. They've added the Wolbachia bacteria to millions of male Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. Wolbachia still allows the mosquitoes to mate, but the eggs produced will never hatch, which in turn means less mosquitoes. Do this enough and Aedes Aegypti could disappear completely.
To test whether the sterilized male mosquitoes work as intended, Debug Fresno will spend 20 weeks releasing one million of these modified mosquitoes per week across two 300 acre neighborhoods.
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You'll know the mosquito release is happening if you see a Debug Fresno vehicle driving around, but you'll also notice a lot more mosquitoes. They are the male mosquitoes, though, which do not bite. And if Debug Fresno works, there will be far fewer female Aedes Aegypti, which do bite.
Verily is employing software algorithms and ground release devices to ensure the best distribution of these mosquitoes. This field test could pave the way for much lower mosquito populations in future, and just as importantly, lower levels of diseases spread by mosquitoes worldwide.