A tech firm has unveiled an ambitious plan to release 20 million infected mosquitoes into the heart of California.
If that sounds absolutely terrifying then don’t panic because Google’s sister company Verily Life Sciences believes it has found the perfect solution to preventing mosquitoes from sharing some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
The Debug Project is remarkable for the simple fact that it involves harnessing nature’s own weapons and then using them to take advantage of an evolutionary trait which is that male mosquitoes don’t bite humans or spread diseases.
What you do then is take the male mosquitoes and infect them with Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium that turns the males sterile.
The team then release a huge swarm of these sterile bugs into a habitat where disease-spreading mosquitoes are a known problem.
They inevitably interbreed and thanks to the Wolbachia you massively reduce the population of female mosquitoes and thus in turn reduce the number of disease-spreading bugs.
This experiment will be the largest of its kind and will involve two huge 300 acre sites where the team will release and then monitor the mosquito population over a period of around 20 weeks.
What makes this project so impressive is the fact that the team are using advanced technology to help harness what is effectively a completely natural solution.
To help understand the process of mass interbreeding as a means of pest-control the project is in partnership with the MosquitoMate organisation.
The company has already been using the process of breeding sterile male mosquitos with nuisance breeds such as the Asian Tiger Mosquito to greatly reduce their numbers in the US where they are not native.
MosquitoMate reports that in some cases they saw decreases of up to 80 per cent in local Asian Tiger Mosquito populations.
For Project Debug Verily have then built their very own automated mass rearing and sex-sorting processes while advanced software algorithms combined with automated release devices will allow them to release the mosquitoes in a targeted and even fashion.
The project is still in its early stages but as the team carry our larger experiments the team believe that they may soon have a viable weapon against diseases such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya.