These lab-grown mosquitoes kill off other mosquitoes. And now they're legal in the US
The key to wiping out mosquitoes might just be more mosquitoes. Lab-grown, infected mosquitoes.
The Environmental Protection Agency last week approved the use of "Zap Males," lab-grown mosquitoes infected with a natural pesticide able to reduce an area's population of Aedes albopictus, a mosquito that carries the Zika virus.
Now golf courses, hotels and homeowners in 20 states and Washington, D.C. will be able to release the Zap Males on their property purchased from MosquitoMate, the Kentucky-based company behind them.
“It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you’d think it would have a lot of appeal,” he told the journal. “I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important.”
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Here's how it works: Mosquitomate raises Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories infected with a strain of the bacterium called Wolbachia, found naturally in half of all bugs. The company then sorts out the males, which don't bite, and releases them into the wild.
There, infected males mate with female Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. The resulting offspring, thanks to the infection, die. Over time, mosquito populations decline.
Other insects — even other mosquito types — aren't affected, said Mosquitomate founder Stephen Dobson, an insect biologist at the University of Kentucky, according to Nature.
That would include Aedes aegypti, the main transmitter of Zika, which exclusively bites humans. The Aedes albopictus, though, proves more resilient in cold weather, giving it a larger range in the U.S. It's the main biting mosquito in Mosquitomate's hometown of Lexington, the company said.
Dampening a city's mosquito population takes time, the journal reported, requiring a multi-week treatment involving millions of modded mosquitoes. And those mosquitoes could die from traditional sprays used by cities or a neighbor. ("Life is difficult for a mosquito," the company notes.)
One tricky part of the process: sorting male mosquitoes from females. Mechanical methods exist, but Mosquitomate also sorts them by hand, Nature reported.
Mosquitomate's approval lets it sell its mosquitoes for five years in D.C., California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Killing all mosquitoes worldwide would likely not affect the food chain and — after reducing malaria, dengue fever and Zika — would save hundreds of thousands of children's lives. But full eradication is not likely, experts say. Yet.
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