Via Nature News & Comment: US reviews plan to infect mosquitoes with bacteria to stop disease. Excerpt:
The United States could soon become the first country to approve the commercial use of a common bacterium to fight the spread of mosquitoes that can transmit viruses such as Zika, dengue and Chikungunya.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing an application from the biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate to use the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). The company plans to market Wolbachia as a pesticide — one that kills only mosquitoes, and leaves other insects untouched. The EPA’s decision on the matter will come after a public-comment period that ends on 31 May.
MosquitoMate’s strategy involves rearing mosquitoes infected with a particular strain of Wolbachia and releasing the males into the environment. When these male mosquitoes mate with wild females who do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don’t hatch, because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. As infected male mosquitoes continue to be released to breed with wild partners, the pest population dwindles.
Eight countries have now reported cases of microcephaly or other fetal birth defects that are probably caused by Zika, leading officials in many areas to consider new options for reducing mosquito populations. “We need as many effective tools as we can get, so we need to give Wolbachia a try,” says Tom Scott, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis. “That will require a well-developed plan for how trials would be done.”
MosquitoMate, which was started by researchers at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, has tested Wolbachia in A. albopictus mosquitoes in three states over the past three years. The approach has reduced the wild mosquito population by more than 70% in those areas, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky and founder of the company.