Google fights against disease-laden mosquitoes

If you thought Google was simply the place you go to find stuff, you‘ll be surprised to learn it has a life-science business dedicated to solving global health issues.

The original company that founded the search engine Google is now known as Alphabet and is working on ways to eradicate disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Alphabet owns a health company, known as Verily, is working on a project known as the “Debug Project.” Its aim is to help communities reduce populations of an invasive species of mosquito called Aedes aegypti. This species is a known carrier of potentially-fatal diseases like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever.

Verily’s team of mosquito biologists and computer scientists is focusing its energies on the “sterile insect technique,” which has been used for many decades to control mosquito populations. The idea is to release infertile male insects into the wild to mate with females, that will then release eggs that won’t hatch. It is most effective in controlling mosquito species that tend not to travel much in their lifetimes, and only mate once. On both those counts, Aedes aegypti is an ideal candidate.

Verily’s Debug Project is focusing on “non-genetically modified organism” alternatives. The plan is to sterilise male mosquitoes by infecting them with a naturally occurring bacteria called Wolbachia. It is known that this bacteria, which is possibly the most common reproductive parasite, will cause the males to become sterile, while leaving them physically up to the task of competing for females in the wild.

In the US, a company called MosquitoMate has filed for approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to get Wolbachia in a related mosquito, Aedes albopictus, as a pesticide. So there are numerous options being researched in the attempt to minimise the risk of major disease outbreaks being caused by mosquitoes. Hopefully the pursuit of a profit will not restrict the development of a viable solution.