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article imageLab-grown mosquitoes to combat disease-carrying mosquitoes

By Karen Graham     Nov 9, 2017 in Science
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the release of lab-reared mosquitoes infected with the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the wilds of 20 states and Washington, DC.
Lexington-based MosquitoMate is a spinoff of the University of Kentucky. The biotech company has been working on developing sterile male mosquitoes that will serve as a nontoxic, non-GMO pesticide. The company's lab-grown Aedes albopictus (aka ZAP males) mosquitoes are designed to halt the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
The science behind the ZAP mosquitoes is simple. The company's lab-grown mosquitoes are infected with the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia bacteria occur in over half of all insects naturally, and when a male ZAP mosquito mates with a wild female Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), which can carry yellow fever, dengue, and Zika, the resulting eggs do not hatch.
Zika is primarily spread by the bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito (pictured)  but it can also be tra...
Zika is primarily spread by the bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito (pictured), but it can also be transmitted sexually
Luis Robayo, AFP/File
Only female mosquitoes bite and transmit disease. The fertilized eggs never hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not properly form, according to Nature. Mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia are also less likely to carry viruses.
“It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you’d think it would have a lot of appeal,” says David O’Brochta, an entomologist at the University of Maryland in Rockville.“I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important.”
On November 3, the EPA registered MosquitoMate’s Asian Tiger mosquito as a new biopesticide, with a five-year license to sell in 20 different states. MosquitoMate CEO Stephen Dobson told Gizmodo they will begin releasing the ZAP mosquitoes in Lexington next summer, gradually expanding to other metropolitan areas like Nashville and Louisville.
MosquitoMate has had far less controversy over their natural approach to using ZAPs to combat disease-carrying mosquitoes. Folks may remember the British biotech company Oxitec. They wanted to release genetically engineered sterile mosquitoes into the Florida Keys to combat Zika-carrying mosquitoes. Locals railed against Oxitec’s mosquitoes.
However, MosquitoMate successfully did trials in the Florida Keys and Fresno, California, attracting very little attention. Dobson wants to see the ZAP mosquito released nationwide, and the company is already getting ready for trials of another species of mosquito, the Aedes aegypti—one of the deadliest species of mosquitoes.
More about MosquitoMate, Wolbachia pipientis, ZAP mosquitos, Genetic engineering, biopesticide
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