Novel trial wipes out 80% of harmful mosquitoes

More than 80% of a dengue fever-spreading mosquito has been wiped out in an Australian town during a landmark trial, scientists said on Tuesday, offering hope for combating the dangerous pest globally.

Researchers from Australia’s national science body CSIRO bred millions of non-biting male
Aedes aegypti
mosquitoes in laboratory conditions at James Cook University (JCU) in a project funded by Google parent company Alphabet.

The mosquitoes were infected with the
Wolbachia
bacteria, which renders them sterile.

Eggs did not hatch

They were then released into the wild at trial sites around the Queensland town of Innisfail where over three months they mated with females who laid eggs that did not hatch, causing the population to plummet.

The
Aedes aegypti
mosquito is one of the world’s most dangerous pests, capable of spreading devastating diseases like dengue, Zika and chikungunya.

It is responsible for infecting millions of people around the world each year and JCU’s Kyran Staunton said the successful trial was a major step forward.

“We learnt a lot from collaborating on this first tropical trial and we’re excited to see how this approach might be applied in other regions where
Aedes aegypti
poses a threat to life and health,” he said.

The so-called sterile insect technique has been used before but the challenge in making it work for mosquitoes was being able to rear enough of them, identify males, remove biting females, and then release them in large enough numbers to suppress a population.

Debug project

Verily — a life sciences company funded by Alphabet — has developed a mosquito rearing, sex sorting and release technology as part of its global Debug project.

Strong suppression

“We’re very pleased to see strong suppression of these dangerous biting female
Aedes aegypti
mosquitoes,” Verily’s Nigel Snoad said.

“We came to Innisfail with CSIRO and JCU to see how this approach worked in a tropical environment where these mosquitoes thrive, and to learn what it was like to operate our technology with research collaborators as we work together to find new ways to tackle these dangerous mosquitoes.”

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