An impressive Australian trial that released millions of sterilized male mosquitoes in Queensland has resulted in a more than 80 percent drop in the population of this disease-spreading insect. The international collaboration involved scientists from Australia’s James Cook University (JCU) and the CSIRO, working with a new mosquito-rearing technology developed by Verily, an independent subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet.
Between November 2017 and June this year millions of male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia were released across several trial zones across the Cassowary Coast in Northern Queensland. The infected mosquitoes still mate naturally with females but the subsequent eggs do not hatch, allowing for rapid and significant drops in the local mosquito population.
The technique has been broadly utilized for over half a century, and has been proven to be a safe and effective way to manage insect populations, but deploying it on a larger scale has always been a challenge. The big technological innovation comes from Verily’s automated mass-rearing system that efficiently and robotically rears large volumes of mosquitoes and separates the sexes. It’s vital that only male mosquitoes are released into neighborhoods as males are non-biting, so when they are let loose in their millions they don’t have a noticeable impact on human populations.