Google may be responsible for shaping the digital world as we know it, but its parent company, Alphabet, is aiming to change the real world as well. In an effort to control disease transmissions and cut back on their rate, Verily, Google’s sister company acting as a life science division at Alphabet, will release 20 million bacteria-infected mosquitoes in central California.
Yes, you read that right. They’re releasing infected mosquitoes in order to prevent diseases. It may sound counter-intuitive at first, but the insects released are all sterile males. They haven’t been genetically modified but rather introduced to Wolbachia pipienties, a naturally occurring bacteria which makes them sterile. The experiment is, therefore, a form of biological control, rather than genetically modified organisms being released into the outside environment.
The principle and the idea behind it is simple. If the sterile males make females sterile through mating as well, the overall population figures of wild mosquitoes will be drastically cut down in a matter of just a couple of years.
These insects are some of the most prominent disease-carriers out there, so cutting back on their population number will have no drastic impact on the environment except minimizing disease transmission.
Known as Debug Fresno, the release has already started and is taking place in Fresno. So far, around 1 million sterile mosquitoes have been released, but the goal is to release around 20 million by the end of the project.
Verily will release 1 million mosquitoes each week, which means the project will last 20 weeks in total. Similar experimental projects have been conducted in the past, but never on such a grand scale and under such strict conditions.
Whether it’ll prove to be a success remains to be seen, but Verily is positive about the whole thing. Previous experiments proved that over 80% of all mosquitoes infected with the bacteria are sterile and can transfer the bacteria over to female mosquitoes, so the success rate for this project is rather high.