Verily releases millions of mosquitoes to help combat Zika in California

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
August 01, 2017, 3:26:22 PM EDT

A branch of Google's parent company, called Verily, is creating millions of infertile male mosquitoes, using a robot, in order to help fight the Zika virus.

Verily announced in October of 2016 that it had plans to fight mosquito-borne diseases, such as the Zika virus and dengue fever.

Swarm of Mosquitos

(dmitry_7/iStockphoto/Getty Images)

Verily uses an automated sex-sorting procedure to ensure that only males are released, due to the fact that males do not bite people. When the sterile males mate with females in the wild, the eggs cannot develop or hatch.

Verily is releasing approximately one million mosquitoes per week over the course of 20 weeks. The study began on July 14, and by the end of the study in December we will have released approximately 20 million mosquitoes in attempts of debugging Fresno. A robot, which was developed by Verily, can raise roughly one million sterile mosquitoes every week.

There have been many previous attempts to use the sterile insect technique (SIT) to control mosquitoes. However, traditional methods of using radiation to sterilize insects doesn’t work well on mosquitoes.

Medical Science Professionals Working in a Laboratory

(SolStock/Getty Images)

This study will be the largest United States release-to-date of sterile male mosquitoes treated with Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium. It will take place over a 20-week period in two neighborhoods each approximately 300 acres in size.

Joseph Conlon, a technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association, said it is important to remember this strategy will not completely eradicate the problem. It must be integrated with other strategies to utilize the full range of prevention and control options. Therefore, the mosquitoes are appropriately targeted in all of their different vulnerable life stages.

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Conlon said this is not to say people shouldn’t have concerns, but they should educate themselves on the processes and pros and cons of the method.

"It’s difficult to say [if the Zika virus is still an issue] given that it’s a relatively recent epidemiological phenomenon and there is much we don’t know about its communicability. We certainly need to be aware that it hasn’t gone away - and there are plenty of viruses waiting in the wings that are spread by the same species of mosquito," Conlon said.

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"The developers of the Wolbachia and the Release of Insects with Dominant Lethality (RIDL) techniques are very much aware of the risks involved and are spending a great many resources to ensure the long-term safety of their product," Conlon said.

"With the public’s growing antipathy toward chemical insecticides, there must be newer control strategies developed to augment our means to protect our public from the expanding list of vector-borne diseases challenging our shores on a daily basis," Conlon said.

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