The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a common bacterium to kill wild mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika, Nature’s news team has learned.
On 3 November, the agency told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate that it could release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Lab-reared mosquitoes will deliver the bacterium to wild mosquito populations.
The decision — which the EPA has not formally announced — allows the company, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, to release the bacteria-infected mosquitoes in 20 US states and Washington DC.
“It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you’d think it would have a lot of appeal,” says David O’Brochta, an entomologist at the University of Maryland in Rockville.“I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important.”
MosquitoMate will rear the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories, and then sort males from females. Then the laboratory males, which don’t bite, will be released at treatment sites. When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don’t hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly.
The company says that over time, as more of the Wolbachia-infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles. Other insects, including other species of mosquito, are not harmed by the practice, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate.