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The EPA has approved the release of lab-grown male mosquitoes, carrying a bacteria that prevents reproduction, in 20 states.
MosquitoMate will rear the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories, and then sort males from females. Then the laboratory males, which don’t bite, will be released at treatment sites. When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don’t hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly.
The company says that over time, as more of the Wolbachia-infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles. Other insects, including other species of mosquito, are not harmed by the practice, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate.
While caution should always be exercised when introducing something like this into the environment, I honestly can’t see any downside to this work. The lab-grown mosquitoes cannot spread, as they cannot reproduce, even as their introduction reduces the mosquito population.
Nonetheless, no one should be surprised that this project has met with political resistance in many places.