The environmental agency announced in a press release on Tuesday that the company has been approved to let "ZAP male" mosquitoes into the ecosystem to mate with the standard Asian Tiger female mosquito that terrorizes humans in the summer. Infected male mosquitoes mating with females - which do bite people - produce offspring that don't survive, because of the bacteria.
For more than 4,000 years, humans have battled mosquito-borne diseases, and now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a line of lab-grown mosquitoes created to reduce the number of these illness-causing insects.
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. As described by MosquitoMate, "Our ZAP male mosquitoes (non-biting!) are released prior to the mosquito season to begin the suppression of the mosquito breeding season".
Scientists with the company hope the new mosquito biopesticide, which is being marketed under the name ZAP Males, can reduce populations of mosquitoes that carry yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika virus.
"It's a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes", David O'Brochta, an entomologist at the University of Maryland in Rockville said in the journal Nature. This bacteria can not be transmitted to mammals, and eggs fertilized by infected males will not hatch.
Kentucky-based biotech company MosquitoMate infected the lab-grown male mosquitoes with Wolbachia pipientis, a naturally occurring bacteria found in many insects. If the bacteria shows the same effectiveness in this species, the company's mosquitoes could be a tiny, flying weapon in our battle against some of the deadliest diseases on the planet.
If successful, this kind of biotechnology would be a big step forward towards solving the huge global health issue of mosquito-borne diseases.