Google to grow sterile mosquito army
It will interrupt breeding cycle of the pests
The aim of ‘Project Debug’ was not only to offer the mosquito-infested Fresno relief, but above all to see whether the cannon can be brought into position in Africa, Latin America and Asia, where tens of millions of people get sick every year by Aedes aegypti.
The company behind Project Debug is called Verily, the former Google Life Sciences, now part of Google’s mother Alphabet. In a larval factory in San Francisco, Verily grows sterile male mosquitoes, infertile by infecting them with Wolbachia bacteria. Once fired from the cannon, they search for females to mate, but due to the infection of the males the eggs do not come out. Verily hopes to eradicate entire mosquito populations.
Green birth control
“Wonderful, right?” Responds mosquito researcher Bart Knols (Radboud University).
“It is a kind of birth control in a very green way, without using insecticides or messing with genes.”
The latter is indeed the case with the ‘biotechnological atomic bomb’ announced in September against malaria mosquitoes. In addition, British scientists succeeded in using genetic manipulation to convert female mosquitoes into half males, which did not bite and no longer laid eggs.
It is almost imperative to outsmart the evolution, because Knols fears that female mosquitoes will find an answer to the mosquito gun if they do not die out quickly enough. ‘It would change the smell of males by inserting the bacterium. As females learn to distinguish between sterile and wild males, we are very far from home. “Moreover, it is unclear whether all dangerous mosquito species are as sensitive to Wolbachia as the Aedes aegypti.
Fellow entomologist Sander Koenraadt (Wageningen University) calls the mosquito gun promising, but points to the major problems that the release of millions of mosquitoes in several places in the world would bring. ‘If you want to breed mosquitoes on an industrial scale, huge factories are required. Growing mosquitoes is a complicated process: light, temperature, food, everything has to be optimal. And then explain to the ordinary citizen that you want to tackle the mosquito problem by paradoxically introducing more mosquitoes. ‘
In addition, mosquitoes are still more prosperous in creating problems than people find in solutions, Knols puts the good news of the mosquito gun into perspective. Knols points, among other things, to the mosquito-induced West Nile virus, which has already risen to Munich and this year already killed 177 South Europeans.
Koenraadt shares his concerns. ‘In the case of climate change, we usually think of prolonged droughts or extreme rainfall, but more or other mosquitoes and more diseases may also be involved. My suspicion is that the Netherlands will also have to deal with the West Nile virus. ‘