The solution to fighting mosquito-borne diseases could very well be other mosquitoes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given biotechnology startup MosquitoMate the green light to experiment with using weaponized male mosquitoes to kill Asian tiger mosquitoes.
MosquitoMate, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, received permission to release the mosquitoes, which have been infected with the bacteria called Wolbachia pipientis, Newsweek reports. The male mosquitoes don’t bite humans, and mating them with wild female mosquitoes will result in fertilized eggs that don’t hatch. Asian tiger mosquitoes are responsible for spreading diseases such as dengue, Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.
David O’Brochta, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, said,
It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you’d think it would have a lot of appeal. I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important.
The EPA approval is good for five years, and applies to Washington, D.C., California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia.
As more of the male mosquitoes are released into the wild, MosquitoMate hopes to reduce the wild population of Asian tiger mosquitoes. Other mosquito species and insects will not be affected, said Stephen Dobson, the company’s founder.
The company will start selling the mosquitoes, named ZAP Males, next summer to individuals and municipalities. The EPA stated that the company will have to register in each state for local use.
MosquitoMate has already tested a mosquito species called Aedes aegypti that was infected with the same bacteria in California and Florida. While other companies that have done the same have received negative feedback, MosquitoMate has had mostly positive reviews during a public-comment forum in Florida.
If successful, this kind of biotechnology would be a big step forward towards solving the gigantic global health issue of mosquito-borne diseases.