Solving the global mosquito problem is one that is far more complicated than just spraying them with pesticides. Verily has a solution that could just work: release 20 million bacteria-ridden mosquitoes.
With the help of scientists, engineers, and Verily's international partners, the Debug Project aims to propagate bacteria-infected mosquitoes in hopes of eventually minimizing, if not completely eradicating, the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Previously known as Google Life Sciences, Verily is essentially using the male mosquitoes to fight the current harmful mosquito population. On July 14, in collaboration with MosquitoMate and Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District, the Debug Project's first field study in the United States, Debug Fresno, began its release of mosquitoes in Fresno County.
Using advanced software and monitoring technology, Debug will be able to monitor new releases and accurately determine which areas need to be treated and re-treated. The project's target is the Aedes aegypti mosquito population, as it is the species of mosquito responsible for spreading diseases such as dengue fever, Zika virus, and chikungunya.
Mosquito Against Mosquito
The idea behind the Debug project is actually quite interesting because they are using the bacteria called Wolbachia to fight the mosquito population. Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium which infects 60 percent of insect species, but not the Aedes aegypti mosquito species. What the Debug Project aims to do is to raise millions of Wolbachia-infected male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and release 1 million of them every week for a period of 20 weeks in two neighborhoods.
That sounds like a whole lot of mosquitoes in a short amount of time, but here's the kick. Using what's called the sterile insect technique (SIT), what happens is when the Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes mate with the wild female mosquito population, the resulting eggs eventually die, thereby lessening the mosquito population in the long-run.
The way Wolbachia works is this. An infected male is only able to reproduce successfully with infected females, whereas mating with uninfected females would lead to embryonic death. The males are unable to transmit Wolbachia to the wild females, and there is also no need to worry about the possibility of breeding infected females as well because the infection is passed onto offspring via the egg and not the sperm.
It is still not entirely clear why this is how the bacterium works, but it is essentially the perfect weapon to fight the harmful mosquito population. Even better, male mosquitoes do not bite, so they aren't really hostile visitors to the community.