EPA approves bacteria-infected mosquitoes to fight Zika

The target for elimination Aedes albopictus. Image credits Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library

To tackle the mosquito-problem, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the release of lab-reared mosquitoes.

Male mosquitoes infected with a certain bacteria can mate with female, potentially disease carrying mosquitoes, and render them infertile, lowering the mosquito population.

Male mosquitoes don't bite, so when these specially grown ZAP insects, infected with the bacteria Wolbachia pipientis, mate with wild female mosquitoes, the resulting eggs won't hatch.

The decision - which the EPA has not formally announced - allows the company, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, to release the bacteria-infected mosquitoes in 20 U.S. states and Washington DC. Trials showed a greater than 80 percent reduction of the biting mosquito populations.

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"This really has the potential to be a game changer in terms of vector control - the biggest thing since DDT", Philip McCall, a medical entomologist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, told Nature at the time. "Evidence that rapidly spreading populations of Aedes albopictus may be much more competent at transmitting infections than previously thought could test those defenses and will require public health officials to stay focused on mosquito control and clinicians focused on tracking patients for signs of infection". MosquitoMate plans to sell its infected mosquitoes to cities, neighborhoods, businesses and homeowners who are looking for new ways to avoid the more harmful diseases that the insects can spread. They are using mechanical sorters to separate the females and males, at 99% efficiency. The country has allowed large-scale releases of such mosquitoes in response to an epidemic of the Zika virus that began in 2015.

The solution to fighting mosquito-borne diseases could very well be other mosquitoes.

Initial threat assessments concluded that the Asian tiger mosquito could easily acquire Zika and dengue viruses - but poor secretion of the virus in the mosquito's saliva made it an ineffective transmitter.

Oxitec has run into challenges when attempting to test its GM mosquitoes in the United States, however. "MosquitoMate has also performed field trials using similar technology targeting the Yellow Fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, in California and Florida".

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