Google's healthcare arm Verily announced just before the weekend it will release twenty million sterile male mosquitoes into the wild, in Fresno County, California. Verily's mosquitoes, all male, are infected with a type of bacteria (Wolbachia) that makes females' eggs unable to produce offspring.
If all goes according to plan, given short life cycles, the number of skeeters will soon plummet - and scientists will study the ecological impact. The target is Aedes aegypti, a breed of the bug that transmit viruses such as Zika and Dengue fever, which has infected more than 3,000 people in California over the past three years. Verily has a solution that could just work: release 20 million bacteria-ridden mosquitoes. Verily's plan hopes to now wipe out this potential Zika-carrying mosquito population to prevent further infections. 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.
The invasive mosquito species first surfaced in Fresno in 2013, but no cases of the diseases mentioned have yet been reported.
The release process will be done through vans, software algorithms, and on-the-ground release devices that will evenly distribute the mosquitoes in a targeted fashion.
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Bonus, male mosquitoes don't bite, so Fresno residents won't have to worry about itching more than they usually would.
Once the release has been accomplished, the Verily team will compare the adult population and egg hatching rates in the trial areas to two control neighborhoods.
Verily has not revealed how much Debug Project is going to cost, but Linus Upson, the Debug Project member, revealed that Verily has planned to do something similar in Australia after Fresno.