In JCU laboratories, researchers bred almost 20 million mosquitoes, infecting males with bacteria that made them sterile. Then, last summer, they released over three million of them in three towns on the Cassowary Coast.
The sterile male mosquitoes didn’t bite or spread disease, but when they mated with wild females, the resulting eggs didn’t hatch, and the population crashed.
“Although the majority of mosquitoes don’t spread diseases, the three mostly deadly types — the Aedes, Anopheles and Culex — are found almost all over the world and are responsible for around (17%) of infectious disease transmissions globally.”
The successful experiment offers a potential new solution against diseases which infect millions every year.
Many mosquito-spread diseases are difficult to treat. Some don’t have effective vaccines, pesticides can be unsustainable, and methods such as clearing standing water are inefficient against mosquito breeding rates.
Although the process used in the experiment, called the Sterile Insect Technique, has been around since the 1950s, it has never been used for mosquitoes like the Aedes aegypti.
This CSIRO-JCU experiment, however, aimed to eradicate those populations altogether, working in partnership with Verily, a health research organization owned by Google parent Alphabet.
Since the Aedes aegypti is an invasive species native to Africa, wiping them out in Australia wouldn’t do much ecological damage in the country.
The experiment has been limited to north Queensland for now, but Verily may hold further field trials, the organization said.