Alphabet-owned Verily will release modified mosquitoes in Fresno, California in an attempt to completely eliminate the pest.
Mosquitoes are the bane of every summer barbecue, but in many places they’re much worse than that. Mosquitoes can carry deadly diseases like Zika and Dengue fever. The threat is so bad that many people are starting to talk about eliminating them altogether.
In the U.S, one group is moving from talk to action. The city government of Fresno is partnering with Verily to try to eliminate one species of mosquito from the city.
Watch Verily’s debug video:
Most methods of mosquito elimination that have been recently proposed or are in practice use genetic modification to limit mosquito breeding. The Verily team decided to take a different approach. Their method involves infecting the male mosquitoes with a bacteria called Wolbachia. When the male mosquitoes mate with females, the Wolbachia causes them to produce eggs that never hatch, dramatically reducing the mosquito population. Male mosquitoes don’t bite so they won’t bother anyone or spread diseases. After a few generations, the mosquito population is all but extinct.
Scientists are usually reluctant to wipe out a species, even with the damage a mosquito can do. After all, mosquitoes are still an important part of the ecosystem and there’s no telling what could happen if we exterminate them. But in this case, the species of mosquito targeted by Verily is Aedes aegypti, an invasive species.
This means that Verily can wipe out A. aegypti without worrying about destroying any ecosystems. In fact, eliminating the species in the California area would only strengthen the existing species there in addition to halting the spread of dangerous diseases.
Starting soon, the Verily team will begin releasing millions of modified mosquitoes into the environment around Fresno. And if everything goes according to plan, residents there might be able to enjoy a mosquito-free evening very soon.
Image and video credit: Verily
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.