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Taking A Bite Out Of The Mosquito Population

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
MosquitoMate, Verily, and Fresno, CA are targeting a mosquito breed that carries viruses like Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya.

There's an extra buzz in the air in Fresno, California. That's because the city's Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD) is releasing an estimated 20 million sterile mosquitoes this summer in a plan  using bacteria to drastically cut into the insect population.

The technology for "DeBug Fresno" is straight from a University of Kentucky lab where Stephen Dobson, entomology professor and president of spin-off company MosquitoMate, figured out a way to make bacteria and spread it among mosquitoes to gradually decrease the population each year.

Verily Life Sciences, a Google company, is also involved. It has made machines that automatically rear, count and sort the mosquitoes by sex. Millions are being released to target a type of female that carries viruses like Zika and Dengue resulting in non-hatching, dead eggs.

Fresno's "DeBug" program is reportedly the biggest U.S. release of sterile mosquitoes to date. It started July 14 and residents are buying into the program now that they know only male mosquitoes are being released. It's the females that bite. CMAD's Jodi Holeman says there's even a cage full of them where people can stick their arm in to make sure they don't bite.

Kentucky's MosquitoMate says there are also projects underway in Florida, Brazil, China, Australia and Malaysia.

Dobson is currently working with the Cincinnati EPA on a project that will allow him to use bacteria as a pesticide to control the local Asian Tiger mosquito. That could start as early as the summer of 2018.

He says the technology comes just in time because the world is facing new invasive species, a changing climate, insecticide resistance, and dangerous pathogens like the Zika virus.