A Mosquito Factory to Defeat Zika Virus

Margherita Olivo
March 20th 2016

There's a factory in China that produces mosquitoes and their plan is to release them into nature to cull the population and eradicating disease. As Zika-linked microcephaly crisis continue to grow in Brazil, pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to announce a public health emergency, China is determined to start a pilot field study using mosquitoes infected with bacteria to help fighting the deadly disease.

China's first case of Zika virus has been found in a 34-year-old man who recently traveled to Venezuela. Since the disease is carried by mosquitoes, this factory is releasing 20 million males (which don't bite) each week to mate with wild female mosquitoes, with the objective to select the species and annihilate the virus. According to Xi Zhiyong, microbiology professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, millions of laboratory-produced Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria will be released at two or three trial sites.

The job of these mosquitoes is to produce infertile eggs once the insects mate. This could be a solution to reduce the local mosquito population. Xi, who is leading the study, explained how the same technique has been already used in the past years, lowering the mosquito population by 90% during a trial and containing the local outbreak of dengue fever. This specific breed of mosquitoes are called Aedes and they are also responsible for the spread of dengue and chikungunya.

Last year genetically engineered mosquitoes were created to fight dengue, but these ones result to be much more effective. The team plans to launch the field work in March, releasing 500,000 Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes into a small island in Guangzhou. “500,000 mosquitoes sound a lot, but in fact, they’re like a drop in the ocean” Xi told the Beijing News. Additionally this breed is harmless and the releasing won't produce any undesirable effect on the environment. In fact, it will only mean more preys for birds and fishes, although the long-term effects on the ecosystem are not clear at this point.

Source: Quartz. Image: Shutterstock

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