Mosquitoes have been around in our planet for around 90-100 million years. Not only are they very annoying, but they can also transmit a whole host of dangerous viruses such as dengue, yellow fever, and zika. But now, mosquitoes are on the front lines in the fight against- believe it or not- other mosquitoes. Recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the release of lab-reared “killer” mosquitoes, whose only goal is to kill other mosquitoes.
(Aedes Albopictus Mosquito)
There is one mosquito that is the main vector for the deadly viruses discussed in the last paragraph and it is the Asian Tiger Mosquito(Aedes Albopictus). In order to take down this mosquito, the EPA decided to pair with the Kentucky-based biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate, which engineers special mosquitoes under sterile lab conditions. The EPA told this company that they needed the bacteria Wolbachia Pipientis as a tool against this mosquito.
Mosquito Mate raised millions of mosquitoes over a period of a few months in secluded labs to contain the bacterium needed. Then, they sorted the males out from the females. and only released the males because they don’t bite humans. At the sites where they were released, the males mated with the Asian Tiger female mosquitoes to transfer the bacterium through the population and produce fertilized eggs. However, because these eggs all contained the Wolbachia Pipientis bacteria, the paternal chromosomes did not form correctly which resulted in the egg not even hatching. In addition, the females in the population died because of the bacteria. Eventually, as the number of males released increased the total population in the specific areas perished.
(Wolbachia Pipientis Bacteria)
The results explained above is what is slowly happening on smaller scales as scientists implement their plan. The benefits of using this method are that this is a non-chemical approach and that other insects and mosquitoes are not harmed. However, there is one main setback to the project which is preventing it from being completely effective. This setback is that the male and female mosquitoes are sorted by hand which prevents scientists from being able to only use males. This results is that the population is not completely perishing. However, researchers have already began to devise a mechanical way to sort the mosquitoes which is almost 100% effective.
(Map depicting the number of Asian Tiger Mosquito concentrated in the Southeastern US)
The effects of this plan are already shown in some areas in the southern United States such as the Florida Keys as scientists strive to switch from just implementing it in the smaller more tropical areas to the larger regions that are more dense with the Asian Tiger mosquito. If this new mechanical method is implemented along with this type of mosquito technology and is successful on widespread levels, it would be another step toward solving one of the largest global public health issues.