This question about stopping the spread of the Zika Virus is behind the experimental release of millions of infertile male mosquitoes in Fresno, California this summer. Called “DeBug Fresno,” this field study is testing the use of sterilized male mosquitoes as a way to control the disease-carrying mosquito population. Here are answers to the who, how, and why of Debug Fresno..
Who Is Behind This Experiment?
Debug Fresno is a collaboration between Verily (a subsidiary of Google), MosquitoMate, and Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD). MosquitoMate and CMAD, a local government-run agency, previously cooperated to release 800,000 sterile mosquitoes in 2016. This summer, these three organizations financed the breeding and release of one million mosquitoes per week over twenty weeks.
How Does It Work?
By flooding wild mosquito populations with sterile males reared in a laboratory, Debug Fresno has made it harder for female mosquitoes to locate and mate with non-sterile males. This leads to lower reproductive success and thus fewer mosquitoes over the next few months. The goal is to substantially reduce mosquito populations, but it remains to be seen if these laboratory mosquitoes can compete with wild ones for the right to mate.
This strategy is nothing new. The idea of employing sterilized insects to curtail pests was conceived and discussed as early as 1937, and it was applied to the Screwworm Fly in the late 1950s. Screwworm was once a leading pest of livestock, with the flies laying their eggs in wounds in cattle. Rearing and releasing sterilized males by the millions effectively eradicated the insect from the continental U.S.
Screwworms were rendered sterile by bombarding the pupa stage with radiation from cobalt 60. Today, these mosquitoes are being sterilized with a naturally-occurring, insect-specific bacterium known as Wolbachia.
The mosquito species being targeted is Aedes aegypti, the Yellow Fever Mosquito. This mosquito is one of only two known carriers of the Zika virus in North America found north of Mexico. As A. aegypti is not even native to the U.S., the sooner we can reduce or even eliminate this dangerous disease-carrier, the better.
Take Precautions Yourself to Prevent Contracting the Zika Virus
While we wait to hear the results of Debug Fresno, protect yourself and your family by using DEET-based repellents like Ben’s® 30 Tick & Insect Repellent Eco-Spray® applying only as directed on the label. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts, and treat clothing and gear with permethrin-based substances like Ben’s® Clothing and Gear 6 oz. continuous spray.