Mosquito-spread diseases such as yellow fever, dengue and the zika virus will soon be fought in the United States… by mosquitoes.
Startup MosquitoMate plans to bio-engineer mosquitoes and release them across 20 states in the US The bugs will carry a form of bacteria called Wolbachia pipientis, which can effectively wipe out disease-carrying mosquitoes. The US Environmental Protection Agency has approved the plan.
Only males will be released outside of the lab because they do not bite. Males will then mate with the wild females who are not infected by Wolbachia. The resulting offspring will not hatch because the chromosomes will not form properly.
The plan will diminish mosquito populations, but only for the Asian Tiger species. Other mosquito species, who do not carry deadly diseases, will not be affected. MosquitoMate has titled its killer bugs “Zap males”.
Zap males will be engineered in a Kentucky lab. MosquitoMate will be contracted by government bodies and sell the bugs direct to home owners via a subcription service, Gizmodo reports.
One entomoligst at the University of Maryland and Rockville told nature.com that he was in favour of the plan. “It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you’d think it would have a lot of appeal,” he said. “I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important.”
The US will not be the first country to use Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes, with China already leading the way. Researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guanghzou claim they are releasing five million bugs a week. They are using mechanical sorters to separate the females and males, at 99% efficiency. Remaining females are exposed to X-Ray radiation for sterilisation.