The U.S. EPA has been given the green light to release lab-grown mosquitoes in 20 states and Washington D.C. The insects will be infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which will aid in containing diseases such as Zika and dengue.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the release of bacteria-infected male mosquitoes, produced by biotechnology company MosquitoMate, into several regions of the United States to fight against Zika and dengue.

“It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you’d think it would have a lot of appeals,” said David O’Brochta, an entomologist at Rockville’s University of Maryland. “I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important,” he added.

Lab-Grown ZAP Mosquitoes

MosquitoMate plans to release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment via lab-grown mosquitoes as a way to contain the Asian tiger mosquito, also known as Aedes albopictus.

To carry out the process, the company will first breed the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus insects in its laboratories and separate the males from the females. Subsequently, the lab-grown male mosquitoes, also referred to as ZAP males, which do not bite, will be released in 20 states of the country.

The 20 U.S. states have been chosen based on their similar precipitation and temperature to California, New York, and Kentucky, where the experiments were held.

EPA’s approval does not include much of the Southeastern United States, which has a lengthy mosquito season and is home to dense populations of mosquitoes, because the company did not carry out field trials here, according to a report.

Once the ZAP males are successfully introduced in the selected states and mate with the uninfected wild female mosquitoes, they will produce eggs that won’t hatch due to the improper formation of the paternal chromosomes. Consequently, the population of the A. albopictus mosquitoes will gradually dwindle and narrow down the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

MosquitoMate plans to work with hotels, golf courses, homeowners, and other customers to deploy its mosquitoes.

The company, however, faces a big challenge because the lab techs still have to separate the male from the female lab-grown mosquitoes by hand, which is a time-consuming process.

Since millions of ZAP males have to be released in a city to contain the population of wild mosquitoes, the company will have to think of a developing a more efficient and faster way to separate the two sexes.

Research In Other Countries

Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in China have reportedly said that they are going to release 5 million Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes each week in Guangzhou.

The process of using lab-bred male mosquitoes to contain the population of the insects has also been tested in Brazil in recent years. The country had approved the large-scale release of infected-mosquitoes to fight an outbreak of Zika virus that began in 2015.

Brazil has also tried the use of another type of genetically modified lab mosquito to contain wild populations.