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United States approves lab-grown insects to kill mosquitoes

08 November 2017

MosquitoMate only got permission to release what they're calling the "Zap males" in 20 states and DC, because those are the places most similar in temperature and precipitation to Kentucky, New York and California where it held its tests. The hope is the males mate with female Asian tiger mosquitoes, which do bite humans, and are carriers of unsafe viral diseases, such as yellow fever and Zika. The mosquitoes are engineered by the company MosquitoMate so that they deliver the bacterium to wild mosquitoes when released, killing off insects that could transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika.

"It's a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you'd think it would have a lot of appeal", he told Nature. The company will rear the infected mosquitoes in its Kentucky lab, sorting non-biting males from females. That's because MosquitoMate's bugs are infected with Wolbachia, a common and naturally occurring strain of bacterium that Aedes aegypti does not carry. Then the laboratory males, which don't bite, will be released at treatment sites. The EPA said that on November 3 the agency officially registered MosquitoMate's Asian Tiger mosquito as a new biopesticide, with a five-year license to sell in 20 different states.

MosquitoMate plans to begin selling its mosquitoes locally, in Lexington, and will expand from there to nearby cities such as Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

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.

The lab-grown mozzies will be deliberately infected with the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis, which affects the insects (but not animals or humans). The EPA received only 14 comments during the public comment period for the Florida trials, and majority were positive.

In addition, Brazil has used this method in a campaign against Zika virus.

Once field trials are complete for the Southeastern United States, where mosquitoes are also prevalent, the company hopes to spread their biotech there as well. The company plans to submit an application to the EPA for nationwide release of that species, says Dobson.