Attack of the killer mosquitoes — but thankfully, they’re not after us.
MosquitoMate, a biotechnology start-up company that specializes in mosquito control, has been given the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency to release mosquitoes that will prevent the spread of Zika, dengue and yellow fever, and other diseases spread by the biting pests.
The environmental agency announced in a press release on Tuesday that the company has been approved to let “ZAP male” mosquitoes into the ecosystem to mate with the standard Asian Tiger female mosquito that terrorizes humans in the summer.
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. This will reduce the amount of biting, disease-carrying lady mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes live an average of 30 to 40 days, so significant decreases in the mosquito population were seen in company trials in Kentucky, California and New York, which have resulted in an 80% reduction in the biting mosquito population.
MosquitoMate developed the technology because they noticed that traditional pesticide methods weren’t working and mosquitoes were still laying eggs in places that were hard to control.
As MosquitoMate says, the best thing to find a mosquito is another mosquito.
“It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes,” David O’Brochta, an entomologist at the University of Maryland in Rockville said in the journal Nature. “I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important.”
The infected mosquitoes won’t affect other insects and the Wolbachia bacteria cannot be transmitted to humans, pets, or other warm-blooded animals.
The mosquitoes are licensed to sell in 20 states, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., for five years, but they must also be registered in those jurisdictions before they can be used.
Individual property owners, from hotels to homeowners, would be able to purchase the ZAP bugs, but it may take a while for the company to spread across all 20 states — the company will have to produce millions of mosquitoes and they are currently separating the male from the female ZAP mosquitoes by hand.
Once field trials are complete for the Southeastern United States, where mosquitoes are also prevalent, the company hopes to spread their biotech there as well.
Brazil, which struggled with a Zika health crisis that reportedly ended earlier this year, helped reduce the threat using similarly genetically modified mosquitoes in addition to fumigation.