FRESNO, California (CBS Local) – California scientists will release 20 million mosquitoes in an effort to reduce the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes, NPR reported.
While it may sound counter-intuitive, the scientists plan to release millions of sterile male mosquitoes so they can mate with wild female mosquitoes. The eggs that the females lay should not hatch as a result, researchers said.
Aptly named Debug Fresno, the project will be executed by Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which is Google’s holding company. The summer effort will be Verily’s first field study that involves sterile mosquitoes in the U.S.
The researchers hope to reduce the U.S. population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are responsible for spreading diseases such as Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses, researchers said. Since 2013, the species has been prevalent in California’s Central Valley, and has become a problem particularly in Fresno County.
“It’s a terrible nuisance, a terrible biting nuisance. It’s changed the way people can enjoy their back yard and it’s a threat for disease transmission,” Steve Mulligan of Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District told The Washington Post.
During the period between the spring and fall of 2016, 38 additional U.S. counties reported evidence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 5,300 symptomatic Zika cases were reported to the CDC since early 2015, but a majority of those cases were related to U.S. citizens travelling to affected areas.
There were no reported cases of Zika in the U.S. this year that occurred “through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission” as of Wednesday, the CDC said.
For 20 weeks, Verily intends to release 1 million sterile, non-biting male mosquitoes on a weekly basis in two Fresno County neighborhoods.
The released mosquitoes will be bred and infected with Wolbachia — a bacterium that is “naturally found in at least 40 percent of all insect species,” according to The Scientist magazine. But the infection is not typically found in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
“Over time, we hope to see a steep decline in the presence of Aedes aegypti in these communities,” Verily said in a statement.