Environment

20 million sterile mosquitoes to be released in California

20 million sterile mosquitoes ...
Twenty million sterile male mosquitoes are to be released across two neighborhoods in Fresno Country, California
Twenty million sterile male mosquitoes are to be released across two neighborhoods in Fresno Country, California
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The sterile mosquitoes will be deployed out of these vans
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The sterile mosquitoes will be deployed out of these vans
Verily's automated mosquito-rearing factory
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Verily's automated mosquito-rearing factory
Twenty million sterile male mosquitoes are to be released across two neighborhoods in Fresno Country, California
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Twenty million sterile male mosquitoes are to be released across two neighborhoods in Fresno Country, California
Twenty million sterile male mosquitoes are to be released across two neighborhoods in Fresno Country, California
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Twenty million sterile male mosquitoes are to be released across two neighborhoods in Fresno Country, California
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Verily, an independent subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, has just launched its Debug Fresno project, which will see the release of 20 million sterile male mosquitoes across two neighborhoods in Fresno County, California. This will be the largest mosquito field study ever conducted in the US with an aim of curbing the population of the disease-carrying insect.

This large-scale field test is part of Verily's Debug Project, which was launched last October. The initiative set out to develop a way to safely combat the scourge of disease that mosquitoes spread around the world. The idea was to utilize the sterile insect technique (SIT) to release a volume of sterile insects into the wild and ultimately reduce a local insect population.

SIT has been successfully deployed numerous times around the world over the last 50 years, eradicating problematic insects such as the screw-worm fly in the US and the Mexican fruit fly in Northern Mexico. Generally, the sterilization process involves using radiation, but that has been found to be ineffective in mosquitoes.

Here the scientists have turned to a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia. Research has found that male mosquitoes infected with the bacteria are rendered sterile. Infected male mosquitoes will still naturally mate with females, but the resulting eggs will not hatch. The idea is that a large-scale release of Wolbachia-infected male mosquitos should decimate the local mosquito population in a short period of time.

The sterile mosquitoes will be deployed out of these vans
The sterile mosquitoes will be deployed out of these vans

Male mosquitoes are non-biting, so the release of such a volume of insects is not expected to have an impact on the human population. Also, as the process involves utilizing a natural bacterium, there is no genetic modification necessary. This keeps the technique from entering the murky ethical debates currently surrounding broad releases of genetically modified organisms into our environment.

The big challenge to overcome in the large-scale deployment of this tactic is the fact that it is costly and time intensive to raise only male mosquitoes and infect them with Wolbachia. This is where Verily's computer and engineering experts come into the picture.

The company has developed an automated mass-rearing system than can efficiently and robotically separate the sexes, so only male mosquitoes are released into public neighborhoods. This system can currently produce one million sterile male mosquitoes per week.

Verily's automated mosquito-rearing factory
Verily's automated mosquito-rearing factory

The company has also developed customized software algorithms and release devices designed to evenly distribute the mosquitoes throughout a neighborhood. This software can monitor mosquito populations in a neighborhood and more effectively manage the distribution of the sterilized males across a season.

In the case of the Debug Fresno project, the company will release one million mosquitoes per week over 20 weeks across two neighborhoods. This large field study is just the first of several planned, with another rolling out in Australia later in the year in conjunction with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific Research Organization (CSIRO).

Take a look at how the Debug Fresno project will work in the video below.

Source: Verily

Introducing Debug Fresno

View gallery - 4 images
6 comments
Gavin Roe
how do sterile mosquitoes affect the population, unless they are not sterile but produce sterile offspring
usugo
So, bottom line, they are using a 50 years old technique with some pretentious "AI" lipstick on it. This way, it looks cool and they can charge 10 times more for it!
yawood
@Gavin Roe. The sterile male mates with a female so she happily lays her eggs but because he was sterile the eggs will not hatch. With millions of sterile males there will be fewer matings that actually result in fertile eggs.
Marco Corona
Egads! These are being released in my community for the 2nd year in a row. Wonder what the results are from that 1st release.
Kpar
I hope New Atlas follows up on this study- I see several applications over several years as being necessary to success.
Allen Eltor
This method is tremendously effective when many successive waves of sterile males are released.
The problem has always been finding a way to separate the males from the females, but these people found a way. Almost certainly this is gonna turn out to be that they learned to release pheromones in one region, then having drawn what they could to that one side,
drawn the fewer females that went that way with something that draws biting females: flashing colors, CO2, and motion.
By doing this all somehow, I'm surmising how it can all be done obviously, they can raise JILLIONS of the things, and soon, one in five males is sterile.
Then one in four males.
Then one in two.
Soon, if you keep doing this ON and ON and ON - you remove the nasty bastards from the region almost in their entirety, except where they breed in such large concentrations that this method doesn't work.
But remember there are other, FEROCIOUS biological germ warfare methods that work in these regions, if they HAVE to be deployed, and then when THAT doesn't take care of most all of them that bother people
you can spray.
You can TREMENDOUSLY reduce the need for chemicals in the environment and leave the species in question, as intact as you like, or destroy them all but a few in an area.
Things do depend on the larvae for food, so...it's according to how nearly all gone, they need to be.