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Tech Company To Release 20 Million Mosquitoes In Fresno

Photo from Pixabay

Alphabet Inc.’s Verily Life Sciences unit, one of the biggest tech companies around, is set to release around 20 million bacteria-filled mosquitoes in Fresno, California for the summer.

The project is part of the company’s plan to cut down drastically on the Aedes aegypti mosquito population, which is responsible for spreading a multitude of viruses, including Zika, dengue and chikungunya, San Francisco Gate reports.

The mosquito swarm to be released was raised by machines. The male mosquitoes are infected with a bacteria that is harmless to humans, but creates dead eggs when mated with wild female mosquitoes. The Aedes aegypti are an invasive species in the state’s Central Valley, first appearing in Fresno in 2013 and carrying dangerous diseases.

Verily became a standalone division of Alphabet in 2015, and has taken on numerous health technology projects. The company has partnered with the pharmaceutical industry to raise funds, including $800 million from Temasek Holdings in Singapore Ltd., for various projects.

This campaign is called Debug, and while it doesn’t seek to generate revenue, it is an opportunity for Verily to showcase its technology when it comes to health care.

Linus Upson, the Verily engineering chief who helped develop Google Chrome’s web browser, leads Debug. He said,

If we can show that this technique can work, I’m confident we can make it a sustainable business because the burden of these mosquitoes is enormous.

The Debug mosquitoes are not genetically modified, but rather infected with a naturally-occurring bacteria called Wolbachia. These infected males are expected to mate with males, creating nonviable eggs that will result in a population drop. In addition, male mosquitoes don’t bite, meaning Fresno residents shouldn’t be worried about their presence.

Similar projects have been launched by organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, using Wolbachia to combat deadly mosquitos. Verily’s innovation is in creating machines that automatically raise, count and sort the mosquitoes according to sex, making the campaign viable for large-scale use.

This Fresno Debus will be the largest release of sterile mosquitoes in the USA, according to Verily. The company intends to release 1 million mosquitoes over 20 weeks, across two neighborhoods 300 acres wide.

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