Nearly 20,000 mosquitoes were deliberately released in the Florida Keys recently to test their ability to take down the mosquito population. The male mosquitoes are of the species Aedes aegypti are infected with the bacteria Wolbachia. The bacteria causes mosquito eggs to die when males with Wolbachia mate with uninfected females.
The company that released the Wolbachia infected mosquitoes, MosquitoMate, is based in Kentucky. The company previously tested this technique in Clovis, California. Wolbachia is a type of bacteria that infects many insects. It is a common parasitic microbe and the most common reproductive parasite. MosquitoMate bills itself as “responsible mosquito control.” The company claims to use no chemicals, sprays and is all natural with no GMO’s. The company is expecting approval from the EPA soon.
Speaking to The Scientist, Andrea Leal, the executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District said the area was looking for other techniques to control mosquitoes because of the “conventional mosquito control methods [were] costly and labor-intensive.” The mosquitos infected with Wolbachia have already been used in other countries, such as Colombia, Australia, Brazil, and Vietnam.
The hope, according to U.S. News and World Report, is that the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes will curb Zika carrying mosquitoes and spreading the disease. The 20,000 males released into the wild will hopefully mate with female mosquitoes and produce offspring that will not make it into adulthood. Male mosquitoes, according to MosquitoMate do not bite and Wolbachia is not harmful to humans.
The mosquitoes were released on Stock Island, north of Key West and about 130 miles southwest of Miami. The trial, according to U.S. News and World Report will last three months with “twice-weekly releases.” Other officials in the Florida Keys are considering further testing with genetically modified mosquitoes from the British company Oxitec. Protests from activists and residents forced Oxitec researchers to find a more remote location.
CNN reported that Leal said that “a successful trial with the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes could mean the availability of a new tool in the fight against” mosquitoes across areas with mosquito infestations. Florida and Texas are the only states to have local transmission of Zika from infected mosquitoes. All other transmissions of Zika came from areas outside the U.S.
Stephen Dobson, MosquitoMate’s founder, said he “hopes the regulatory issues will be resolved quickly.” For people who may not want certain types of mosquito control, this may be another way of combating the problem.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy Facebook