Mosquitoes are pesky little beasts. They buzz around you on a warm summers day, bite you when you’re trying to relax, and are accountable for over 1 million deaths per year. This is because they spread a disease called Malaria which infects 300 – 500 million people each year, with a child dying every 30 seconds due to the disease.
Most recently, mosquitoes have been spreading the Zika virus, which causes serious birth defects in pregnant women. With no cures for either of the diseases, kerbing the spread of these diseases via mosquitoes is long over due. Verily, the life science arm of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, will release 20 million mosquitoes to combat the spread of disease.
How will more mosquitoes stop the spread of life threating diseases? Well, not all mosquitoes are bad. The female Aedes aegypti is awful for us as it bites, breeds and can carry diseases, however, the males do not bite. Verily has created machines to raise a million infertile mosquitoes a week. They are producing male insects treated with naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria and has used its custom-built machines and algorithms to increase its production of mosquitoes. The first groups of 20 million sterilised mosquitoes have already been released in Fresno County, California.
Released, these mosquitoes will mate with dangerous females and produce eggs that will never hatch. Eventually, generation by generation, the treated mosquitoes will shrink the population of disease carrying mosquitoes.
Verily’s senior engineer Linus Upson commented to MIT Technology Review, “If we really want to be able to help people globally, we need to be able to produce a lot of mosquitoes, distribute them to where they need to be, and measure the populations at very, very low costs.”
The project has been named Debug and will soon be tested in Australia for later this year, Upson said, “We want to show this can work in different kinds of environments.”
If this works, it could save millions of lives, and hundreds of millions of people could avoid getting sick each year.