On July 14, 2017, Google’s sister company, Verily, began a staggered release of 20 million bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in central California, as a pet-project of their parent company Alphabet’s life science’s division. The goal is to minimize a specific species of mosquito—known as the Aedes aegypti—which carries certain dangerous diseases such as Zika virus, yellow fever, and dengue fever. While these diseases do not currently threaten California residents, climate shifts are causing scientists to take preventative measures now.
The History of the Mosquito Problem
Mosquitoes are more deadly to humans than all other animals combined because the diseases they carry sicken hundreds of millions annually. The mosquito known as Aedes aegypti first appeared in California’s Central Valley during 2013. Since that time, its population has rapidly adapted, particularly in Fresno County.
An effort to prevent Zika-infected mosquitoes from taking root in South Carolina has dealt a major blow to the local honey bee population. Bees died in massive numbers after officials in Dorchester County approved the spraying of Naled, a common insecticide that kills mosquitoes on contact, over the countryside.
Researchers at IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore have created a macromolecule––one giant molecule made of smaller subunits––that might treat multiple types of viruses and prevent infection.
According to a paper published in Macromolecules, the macromolecule warded off viruses such as influenza, dengue and Ebola successfully in a lab environment. Importantly, the macromolecule remained effective even after the viruses mutated. Researchers plan to test the Zika virus next, and they believe its similarities to a form of dengue already tested will result in yet another successful trial.