Environmental Agency OK’s the Use of ‘Lab-Grown Mosquitoes’ to Kill Wild Mosquitoes
The US Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a new method pioneered by biotech company MosquitoMate to produce special lab-grown mosquitoes that can kill other wild mosquitoes carrying deadly viruses like yellow fever, dengue and Zika.
The lab-grown mosquitoes are the Aedes albopictus species, also known as Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, the same species that carries viruses dangerous to humans. MosquitoMate specifically breeds lab-grown tiger mosquitoes to carry a common parasitic microbe, the Wolbachia pipientis bacterium, which infects mosquitoes but not other animals or humans.
On their website, MosquitoMate writes, “MosquitoMate is responsible mosquito control that doesn’t utilize genetic engineering. We rely on a natural approach rather than genetic modification to reduce the mosquito population in your backyard… Scientists estimate that Wolbachia is one of the most common bacteria on the planet, occurring naturally in over half of all insect species, including bees, butterflies, dragonflies and many mosquito species.”
The hope is that when the infected male mosquitoes, which don’t bite, are released from the lab into the wild, they will mate with the wild female population. The eggs produced from the infected male and wild female mosquitoes will also be infected and won’t hatch because the paternal chromosomes are infected with Wolbachia.
MosquitoMate has also successfully tested out these lab-grown mosquitoes in Kentucky, New York and California.
The US has been considering using lab-grown mosquitoes to reduce the the spread of mosquito-borne diseases for several years. A similar project in Florida was approved by the federal government last year, but local voters rejected the trial because of potential effects it could have on the local environment.
“First we’re going to prove our business model here in Lexington, Kentucky, but we have approval in 20 states,” Karen Dobson, the production manager at MosquitoMate, told Motherboard over the phone. The company plans to release the first infected male mosquitoes next spring.
In 2016, scientists in Brazil tested lab-grown mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil with great success. The lab-grown mosquito OX513A tested there is a male Aedes aegypti mosquito that was genetically engineered to pass on a lethal gene, synthesized from E. coli and the herpes simplex virus, to wild female mosquitoes, causing the females’ offspring to die.