FRESNO (CBS SF) — A white van cruises through the streets of Fresno at dusk, delivering an unusual cargo – thousands of male mosquitoes.
The release is part of an experimental program conducted by the Bay Area’s Verily Life Sciences — the cousin to tech powerhouse Google.
The male mosquitoes are sterile and the hope is they will naturally reduce the population of mosquitoes spreading diseases and feasting on unprotected human limbs.
“The only ones we release are male mosquitoes, which don’t bite,” said Linus Upson, a Verily scientist. “Only the females bite, and the males we’re releasing are sterile, so when they mate with the wild female, she’ll still produce and lay eggs, but they’ll never hatch.”
The breed the test is targeting is called Aedes Aegypti which spreads some of the world’s most dangerous diseases including Zika and Dengue Fever.
“If we release enough of them for a long enough period of time, we hope we can eliminate the population of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes near where people live,” he said.
In total, Upson and his fellow researchers will be releasing a million mosquitoes a week for 20 weeks.
But does such a massive release have local residents worried the horde will force them to flee to their homes?
“Are the mosquitoes going to bother us, are they going to bite us?” said Fresno resident Bonnie Smith. “So far it hasn’t been much of a problem.”
Upson and others have also been calming any concerns.
“Once people understand that male mosquitoes don’t bite, and that, if we’re successful, we’re going to reduce the population of mosquitoes that do bite them, people are usually thrilled,” he said.
To help produce the large number of mosquitoes needed for the program, Verily has spent millions building a special lab which breeds, sorts by sex and sterilizes the bugs.
Upson said once the experiment is done and is successful, Verily hasn’t even began planning how it would market it services.
“We don’t know exactly how we’re going to go to market with this as a business,” he said. “Right now, we’re just focused on showing that it can work.”
Researchers are monitoring the traps set throughout several neighborhoods in Fresno and are hoping to see a significant drop in the mosquito population by thbe end of the summer.