The Debug Project, an initiative at Verily to reduce the devastating global health impact that disease-carrying mosquitoes inflict on people around the world, has started its launch of Debug Fresno.
It will be releasing 20 million lab created mosquitoes in the San Joaquin Valley to fight mosquito borne illness.
It is the first field study in the U.S. to test a potential mosquito control method using sterile insect technique in collaboration with MosquitoMate and Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD).
Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) is Alphabet Inc.’s research organization devoted to the study of life sciences.
Debug Fresno will target the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can transmit diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. Aedes aegypti first appeared in the central valley of California in 2013, and since then has become pervasive in Fresno County. This study will be the largest U.S. release to-date of sterile male mosquitoes treated with Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium, and will take place over a 20 week period in two neighborhoods each approximately 300 acres in size. When these sterile males mate with wild females the resulting eggs will not hatch. To measure our outcomes, we will compare the adult population density and egg hatching of Aedes aegypti in these targeted areas to two control neighborhoods. Over time, we hope to see a steep decline in the presence of Aedes aegyptiin these communities.
The mosquitoes were raised by a robot that can produce a million mosquitoes a week. They’re all male, so they won’t bite anyone. Only female mosquitoes bite humans.
The bugs have been specially raised to carry a bacteria called Wolbachia. It has an insidious effect on the reproductive process. Mosquitoes that carry Wolbachia can fly around normally and mate with females. The eggs those females lay aren’t able to hatch. The females would have to be infected with the same strain of the bacteria as well.
Setting loose hoards of males carrying the bacteria, then, is like waging biological warfare on mosquitoes.
The Verily team will then compare the adult population and egg hatching rates in the trial areas to two control neighborhoods.
The study is likely to be at least a decade-long effort. It will use data sources, surveys and diaries to ascertain the biological reasons behind becoming ill.
Debug Fresno will be conducted by Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District, MosquitoMate, and Verily. This video is intended to inform residents of the possible activities of this study.