Google's Verily robots release millions of mosquitos in California

Vincent Carr
July 17, 2017

In Fresno, Verily has planned to release around 1-million mosquitos every week, divided into a 20-week period.

Aedes aegypti was first spotted in central California in 2013.

The idea is that the infected mosquitoes will try to mate with wild females, but the eggs laid will not hatch, and the mosquito population will decline over time.

Verily, Alphabet's life biotech division formerly known as Google Life Sciences, said last week that the Debug Project, an initiative to reduce the volume of disease-carrying mosquitos worldwide, is now ready for a test in the field.

It is an effective vector for carrying diseases like dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya.

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With the help of scientists, engineers, and Verily's global partners, the Debug Project aims to propagate bacteria-infected mosquitoes in hopes of eventually minimizing, if not completely eradicating, the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes. And, as a bonus, these male mosquitoes in question don't actually bite (likely a huge source of relief for Fresno-area residents who are about to be inundated with the new mosquito pool).

The first breed of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes was made by scientists at Monash University in Australia.

Verily's mosquitoes aren't genetically modified. Verily's contribution has been to create machines that automatically rear, count, and sort the mosquitoes by sex, making it possible to create vast quantities for large-scale projects. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also been conducting their own research in bacteria-infected mosquitoes. The Fresno project will be the biggest U.S. release of sterile mosquitoes to date, Verily says.

According to Steve Mulligan, district manager of the Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District, the minimum ratio of seven Wolbachia mosquitoes to one wild male mosquito is needed to control the population, which includes the parts of Fresno in this project. The company's bug-releasing van will start travelling the streets of Fancher Creek, a neighbourhood in Fresno County, on July 14.

Other reports by BadHub

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