Recently, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District released 40,000 male mosquitoes infected with a bacteria that would halt the insect’s life cycle by preventing eggs from hatching.
The aim is to control the disease-carrying female Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits the deadly Zika virus, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya.
Twenty-thousand Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes, which do not bite, were reportedly released in Stock Island for a field trial that would last 12 weeks.
CNN reports that the male mosquitoes were manually injected with the Wolbachia bacteria.
Wolbachia is found in the cells of many insects but not mosquitoes, so the bacterium is manually injected into the mosquitoes in a lab in advance of the trial, CNN said.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District explained that when these infected male mosquitoes mate with female Aedes Aegypti, the eggs produced won’t hatch, thus there is failure to reproduce.
It is hoped that this will reduce, if not eliminate, female Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes and the viruses they spread.
The World Health Organization is backing the experiment. The WHO actually supported another experiment aimed at curbing Zika-carrying mosquitoes, according to a Reuters report.
Zika is dangerous primarily to pregnant women. Reuters reported that one in 10 Zika-infected mothers had babies with related birth defects in the United States in 2015 alone, quoting the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"A successful trial with the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes could mean the availability of a new tool in the fight against the Aedes aegypti mosquito for not only our District, but for Mosquito Control Districts around the country," CNN quoted Andrea Leal, executive director for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, as saying.
CNN reported that the first Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes were released into the suburbs of Cairns, Australia in 2011.
The proponent of the experiment, research group Eliminate Dengue, reportedly said additional field trials are underway in Indonesia, Vietnam, Colombia, and Brazil.
Florida officials are also trying to release genetically modified mosquitoes from British firm Oxitec.
These genetically modified male mosquitoes would pass along to their female counterparts a lethal gene that makes the offspring die.
This second method, too, was approved by the WHO, according to Reuters.
In addition, the WHO said its specialists had reviewed five potential new weapons against Aedes mosquitoes after a meeting with its Vector Control Advisory Group.
Reuters said the WHO considered three of the proposed weapons--including sterile insect technique, vector traps, and toxic sugar baits to attract and kill mosquitoes--“still too experimental to consider for scaled-up pilot projects.”
But the two others--releasing mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia bacteria and using genetically modified, or transgenic male mosquitoes to suppress the wild population--“warrant time-limited pilot deployment, accompanied by rigorous monitoring and evaluation.”
Humanity’s exposure to the deadly mosquitoes is vast. According to a column in Washington City Paper, the Gates Foundation has estimated that mosquitoes kill about 725,000 people a year, 600,000 from malaria alone.
Dengue has become endemic in at least 100 countries in Asia, the Pacific, the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean. The WHO estimates that 50-100 million infections occur yearly, mostly among children.
The WHO has also declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency, with suspected cases of microcephaly in babies, the dangerous effect of the virus.
Brazil authorities consider most of the cases of babies born with abnormally small heads to be related to Zika, Reuters reported, estimating the cases to have risen to over 5,000, of which 863 were confirmed Zika-related.
But should humanity extinguish these deadly mosquitoes?
The American Mosquito Control Association has warned of the possible effect of eradicating mosquitoes on the ecosystem.
“Given that nature abhors a vacuum, other species will fill the niches vacated by the mosquitoes after an initial shuffling period of variable length,” the agency said, warning that species replacing mosquitoes could be even worse.
It also hinted that humanity’s battle against the deadly mosquitoes could be tough.
“Mosquitoes' ability to adapt to changing environments would make them all but impossible to eradicate,” it said.