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20 million disease-spreading mosquitoes will be released in the US - but it's a good thing

The Debug Project aims to reduce the health impact that disease-carrying mosquitoes inflict on people around the world.

File photo
File photo
Image: khlungcenter via Shutterstock

A GIANT TECHNOLOGY firm is about to release up to 20 million infected mosquitoes into the centre of California this summer.

But it’s a good thing.

The Debug Project – now named Debug Fresno – which launched last week by Alphabet Inc.’s Verily Life Sciences (formerly of Google X), aims to “reduce the global health impact that disease-carrying mosquitoes inflict on people around the world”.

The male mosquitoes are raised in machines and are infected with Wolbachia, a natural bacterium.

When the sterile male mosquitoes mate with wild females, the resulting eggs won’t hatch.

The lab-infected mosquitoes are harmless to humans.

Debug Fresno will target the aedes aegypti mosquito, which can transmit diseases like Zika, dengue and chikungunya. They first appeared in the central valley of California in 2013, and since then have become pervasive in Fresno County.

The study will take place over a 20-week period in two neighbourhoods, each about 300 acres in size.

“To measure our outcomes, we will compare the adult population density and egg hatching of aedes aegypti in these targeted areas to two control neighbourhoods,” a statement from Verily said.

Verily is Alphabet Inc.’s research organisation that studies life sciences. The organisation was formerly a division of Google X until August 2015 when they became an independent subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.

Verily teamed up with Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD) and MosquitoMate, a mosquito reduction control company, to complete the project.

Previous trial

The team at Verily piloted the first US release of male mosquitoes with Wolbachia into the Fresno area in 2016.

However, the 2017 project will see a 25% increase in the 2016 numbers, with a total of one million non-biting sterile male mosquitoes released weekly.

“Even though they’re not actively and currently transmitting disease in California, we have to try to stay ahead of these diseases,” Jodi Holeman, scientific-technical services director at CMAD said.

Meanwhile, MosquitoMate has already been using a similar process of breeding sterile male mosquitos to kill dangerous breeds such as the Asian Tiger mosquito, who are invasive to the US.

The company claims that it managed decreases of up to 80% in Asian Tiger populations in some areas of treatment.

Read: ‘We’re really surprised she didn’t notice them’: Woman has 27 contact lenses removed from eye

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