Last October, we announced the Debug Project, an initiative at Verily to reduce the devastating global health impact that disease-carrying mosquitoes inflict on people around the world. Today, I’m happy to announce the launch of Debug Fresno, our first field study in the U.S. to test a potential mosquito control method using sterile insect technique in collaboration with MosquitoMate and Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD).
Debug Fresno will target the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can transmit diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. Aedes aegypti first appeared in the central valley of California in 2013, and since then has become pervasive in Fresno County. This study will be the largest U.S. release to-date of sterile male mosquitoes treated with Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium, and will take place over a 20 week period in two neighborhoods each approximately 300 acres in size. When these sterile males mate with wild females the resulting eggs will not hatch. To measure our outcomes, we will compare the adult population density and egg hatching of Aedes aegypti in these targeted areas to two control neighborhoods. Over time, we hope to see a steep decline in the presence of Aedes aegypti in these communities.
In 2016, CMAD and MosquitoMate piloted the first-ever U.S. release of male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with Wolbachia in Fresno County. Our 2017 collaboration represents a more than 25x increase in the release efforts, with a total of one million non-biting sterile male mosquitoes released weekly, made possible by the automated mass rearing and sex-sorting processes developed at Verily. Additionally, our software algorithms and on-the-ground release devices will allow us to distribute the sterile male mosquitoes in an even and targeted way throughout Fresno’s mosquito season. We believe that these advancements could have a meaningful impact on what is traditionally a very labor-intensive process and could reduce the number of biting Aedes aegypti in Fresno County.
For the Debug team at Verily, moving our work from the laboratory to the field is not only an important milestone for our group of biologists, engineers, and automation experts, but it’s also a critical step in bringing our long-term vision to reality. Field studies allow us to test our discoveries and technologies in challenging, real-world conditions and collect the necessary evidence to bring them to a broader scale. We hope to demonstrate success with Debug Fresno that will benefit the local communities working with us on this study and later other communities globally where Zika, dengue, and chikungunya are endemic. We are excited to take the first step in that journey today by bringing these technologies to the field.