Google owner is stamping out mosquitoes in California

Graig Graziosi
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Google's parent company, Alphabet, has undertaken an experimental program to wipe out disease-causing mosquitoes.

It seems to be working.

The owners of the most recognised name on the Internet have been waging war with mosquitoes at three test sites in Central Valley, California, and - according to the academic journal Nature Biotechnology - have developed a strategy that has proven successful.

Verily - the Alphabet-operated group carrying out the mosquito purge, dubbed the 'Debug initiative' - said that stamping out the flying pests is especially important as the world battles the spread of coronavirus. While the bugs don't spread the coronavirus, they do spread other debilitating diseases, like malaria, zika and dengue fever, which can send large swaths of populations into hospitals at a time when medical staff are already overwhelmed and lacking resources.

The program began in 2017, with Verily releasing millions of male mosquitoes into Fresno County neighbourhoods during mosquito season. The insects were bred in a lab by a company called MosquitoMate, and were given bacterium called "Wolbachia" that prevents females that mate with the males from producing offspring. Female mosquitos are the only ones that generally bite.

Every day between April and October in 2018, the company released up to 80,000 mosquitoes every day in the Fresno neighbourhoods.

According to results published in the journal, the company was successful in using the male lab mosquitoes to suppress more than 93 percent of the female mosquito population between July and October 2018.

"We had a vision of what this should look like and we managed to do that pretty perfectly," Jacob Crawford, a senior scientist on the project, said.

Ultimately, the diseases that scientists hope to wipe out aren't diseases that threaten central California. The climate where the mosquitoes are being tested is generally arid, but the companies working on the program intend to use their mosquitoes to wipe out largely tropical diseases.

As a result, the company has created partnerships in Singapore with its National Environment Agency and is hoping to begin partnerships in South America and the Caribbean.

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