Bio-engineered mosquitoes can stop spread of dengue, zika and yellow fever

Image Getty

Kentucky-based biotechnology startup MosquitoMate was given us government approval to release bacteria-infected mosquitoes in several states.

A bio-tech start-up got the OK from the feds last Friday to release lab-grown skeeters in 20 states - including NY - an army of weaponized insects whose mission is to target wild, disease carrying mosquito populations, the journal Nature reported.

So how does it work?

Male mosquitoes don't bite, so when these specially grown ZAP insects, infected with the bacteria Wolbachia pipientis, mate with wild female mosquitoes, the resulting eggs won't hatch. The mosquitoes are engineered by the company MosquitoMate so that they deliver the bacterium to wild mosquitoes when released, killing off insects that could transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika. We rely on a natural approach rather than genetic modification to reduce the mosquito population in your backyard... And since the ZAP males do not bite, these mozzies shouldn't be a problem to have around.

And the plan is creating a lot of buzz as an alternative to pesticides, University of Maryland entomologist David O'Brochta told Nature. "I'm glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important".

Gizmodo reported that the U.S.

"First we're going to prove our business model here in Lexington, Kentucky, but we have approval in 20 states", Karen Dobson, the production manager at MosquitoMate, told Motherboard over the phone.

Mosquitoes live an average of 30 to 40 days, so significant decreases in the mosquito population were seen in company trials in Kentucky, California and NY, which have resulted in an 80% reduction in the biting mosquito population.

The company will have to produce millions of its mosquitoes in order to suppress an entire city's mosquito population, Nature reported. Other mosquito species, who do not carry deadly diseases, will not be affected.