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Verily, the biotech division of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has begun releasing sterile mosquitoes into the wild in Fresno, California, in an effort to reduce the risk of diseases passed on by the winged nuisances.
The initial test is a joint project with Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District and MosquitoMate, and aims to cut down the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries Zika, dengue, and chikungunya diseases.
Verily will release at least one million sterile male mosquitoes each week in Fresno. Each insect will be treated with Wolbachia, a bacteria that prevents eggs produced by the males and wild females from developing and hatching.
These types of experiments have occurred in the past, but on a much smaller scale. Verily is able to produce and release so many bugs per week because the company is using custom-built software algorithms and machines.
The male mosquitoes will be released over a 20-week period in two neighborhoods, and again the company will be using an automated device to distribute them.
“If we really want to be able to help people globally, we need to be able to produce a lot of mosquitoes, distribute them to where they need to be, and measure the populations at very, very low costs,” Linus Upson, a senior engineer at Verily told MIT Technology Review.
Mosquitos are the deadliest animals in the world, and kill more people each year than all other animals combined.