On a mission to eradicate the Zika virus, Verily a life sciences arm of Alphabet, an umbrella company of Google has released 20 million mosquitoes over a span of 20weeks, 1million mosquitoes at a time into a neighborhood in Fresno, California under the project name ‘Debug Fresno’. Though the people living in Fresno are not having a threat from Zika virus they don’t mind acting as test subjects to the experiment that could possibly save millions of lives.
The bugs being released are male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which carry microbes responsible for diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue. Al beit more bugs are being released, it is believed to reduce the mosquito population in this neighborhood. How?
The male mosquitoes are not genetically engineered but are rather bred and infected with Wolbachia bacteria, found in nearly 40% of insect species, humans however remain unaffected by these bacteria. Male mosquitoes as such don’t bite humans; it is the female mosquitoes which bite. The advantageous effect of the bacterial infection is: when infected male mosquitoes mate with uninfected female mosquitoes non-viable eggs (that don’t hatch) are produced due to a phenomenon known as cytoplasmic incompatibility; hence, declining the Aedes population over time.
Carrying the Wolbachia bacteria makes the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes resistant to Zika virus preventing its spread via their saliva according to a study in Brazil. Verily in collaboration with MosquitoMate (a Kentucky based company) and Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District of Fresno County want to study the population density as well as number of eggs hatching in the areas where the experiment is being conducted in comparison to control neighborhoods to measure its efficacy.
The success of the project will help it serve as a model for various communities in other parts of the world. Development of vaccines and other treatments for Zika is a time taking process, combating the problem at the pest control level is considered to be more beneficial.
Article by SriVidya.