A Google sister company has released 20 million bacteria-filled mosquitoes in Fresno, California in a campaign to eliminate mosquitoes that got underway on Friday. The campaign formed part of Alphabet Inc's Verily Life Sciences unit's plan.
The mosquitoes have been reared by machines and the male mosquitoes are infected with bacteria that, while harmless to humans, create non-hatching dead eggs when they mate with wild females. This will hopefully reduce the mosquito population and the transmission of the diseases they carried.
The project is aimed at Aedes aegypti, a mosquito breed that carried viruses like zika, dengue, and chikungunya which first arrived in California's Central Valley in Fresno in 2013.
Verily became a standalone Alphabet division in 2015, and had since then expanded rapidly, taking on numerous health technology projects, partnering with the drug industry and raising significant funds including $800 million from Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings Ltd.
While the mosquito project, called Debug, would not bring in revenue, in the near-term, the project offered a chance for Verily to show off its technical prowess in the health-care field, according to commentators.
According to Men's Health, Google was searching for 10,000 people to serve as lab rats for part of its Project Baseline, a four-year, comprehensive and unprecedented health study.
The mosquitoes were not genetically modified, but instead infected with naturally occurring bacteria called Wolbachia. According to the company this would be the largest US release to date of such mosquitoes.
''You should expect to see a heightened level of mosquito activity throughout the summer,'' said Jacob Crawford, a scientist for Verily, The San Diego Tribune reported.
The programme would target two neighbourhoods over a 20-week period.
''This is only going to be temporary. Hopefully you see less and less biting females,'' said Jodi Holeman, scientific-technical services director of Fresno County's Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD).