Researchers Infect Mosquitoes with Harmless Bacteria to Fight the Zika Virus


Mosquitoes artificially infected with bacteria are used to fight the Zika virus

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District decided to test a new method of killing mosquitoes infected with Zika or carrying other viruses. They decided to infect some healthy mosquitoes with bacteria and release them in the wild, in hope that this would annihilate the other viruses.

MosquitoMate is a company based in Kentucky which took this task of infecting 20,000 male mosquitoes with bacteria called Wolbachia. This occurs naturally in the environment and is not dangerous for humans. Therefore, this does not represent a health hazard, as male mosquitoes don’t bite, and the eggs produced after these artificially infected males mate with wild females do not even hatch.

Infecting mosquitoes with harmless bacteria and releasing them in the wild

After infecting the mosquitoes, they put them in some cardboard tubes resembling toilet paper rolls. Then, they shipped these tubes from Kentucky to Florida. When they reached the release point, namely the Stock Island area in Key West, they shook the tubes or blew into them and the mosquitoes were set free.

For the next three months, they will be releasing artificially infected mosquitoes twice a week. In order to have a significant effect against the virus-bearing wild mosquitoes, they will provide seven lab mosquitoes for one male found in the wilderness.

This experiment represents one of the many attempts to control the populations of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. These are responsible with the spread of Zika or other dangerous diseases, such as chikungunya or dengue fever. Moreover, they are widespread in urban areas and pose a high risk of infection for humans.

There have been many attempts to control pest mosquitoes

This is not the first time when such tests on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are performed in the United States. The first one was performed last year in California. Officials are also considering testing some genetically modified mosquitoes by the British company Oxitec. These mosquitoes should not be able to have offspring which can survive in the wild.

Initially, this test received FDA approval, but many environmental groups were outraged by the sterilization of the mosquitoes. Thus, MosquitoMate awaits the approval to commercialize a species of mosquito infected with Wolbachia as pest control.

The genetic modifying technique is approved, while the other method is still labeled as pesticide use. However, these mosquitoes do not come with any risk of transmitting diseases. If the results are positive, MosquitoMate might soon receive the approval to use this method to a larger extent.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons