Google Mother Company promotes the Mosquito Extinction Program in laboratory mosquito factories

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 Google Mother Company promotes the Mosquito Extinction Program in laboratory mosquito factories


Every year, an average of 1,000 people die from crocodile attacks, and about 50,000 people are killed by snake attacks. About 725,000 people die from mosquito-borne diseases, and the number of people infected with diseases is less than one million. Among them, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus can spread dengue virus, Zhaika virus, yellow fever virus and Chikungunya virus on a large scale.

Verily Research Institute, a life sciences subsidiary of Alphabet, Googles parent company, plans to solve the problem of mosquito bites once and for all by letting mosquitoes kill their offspring. The ambitious plan was launched in Fresno County, central California.

Currently, in addition to Alphabet, the parent company of Google, the Gates Foundation and Imperial College of Technology, there are projects to curb the spread of the disease through biological modification of mosquitoes. At the meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on 29 November, countries rejected the proposal of temporarily banning the release of gene-driven organisms and supported the implementation of these biological plans to a certain extent.

Verilys vision: extinction of mosquitoes

Aedes aegypti, originally a mosquito from Africa, has been found in tropical regions of more than 120 countries, including India. Unlike other mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti lives and breeds in places where people live. Since its appearance in Fresno County in 2013, Aedes aegypti has become one of the most serious health problems in the region.

Aedes aegypti. Oriental IC data sheet

When we monitored the emergence of Aedes aegypti, we made a lot of efforts in many ways to prevent these mosquitoes from multiplying and even eliminate them, said Jodi Holeman, director of scientific services for integrated mosquito control areas in Fresno County. But all the efforts have not paid off. In 2016, Fresno County, in collaboration with Mosquito Mate, released 400,000 mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia bacteria.

Verily plans to further invisibly sterilize mosquitoes through Wolbachia bacteria. Wolbachia is a kind of bacteria found naturally in insects. It resides in biological cells and can increase the number of eggs laid by the host or change the hormones of the host. The male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were released after being infected with Wolbachia. Male mosquitoes dont bite humans, but when they mate with female mosquitoes, they transmit Wolbachia bacteria to female mosquitoes. Because Wolbachia alters the sperm DNA of the paternal line, offspring will survive only when Wolbachia is present in the fertilized eggs. Infected males only come into contact with naturally occurring Volbacterium-free populations, and their offspring die during the development of their spouses and their eggs cannot hatch.

On the other hand, females store sperm and fertilize their eggs, which means that their first mate will be the father of all offspring. So even if females mate again, all offspring will not hatch as long as they have mated with males infected with Wolbachia.

In 2017, Verily participated in and expanded Mosquito Mates mosquito control program in Fresno County, releasing 20 million mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia bacteria. The results showed that the number of female mosquitoes capable of biting people decreased by two-thirds. This year, Verily made some adjustments to the plan, reducing mosquito population by 95% as a whole.

At the headquarters of Verily Research Institute, there is an automated mosquito breeding plant. Starting from the egg state, these mosquitoes are pasted with a digital identifier, which can be tracked through specific GPS coordinates until they are released. When the eggs hatch, the robot will put the mosquitoes in a container containing water and air to feed them and keep them warm until they reach adulthood. Other robots use special technology to sort the mosquitoes by sex.

Now we mainly want to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of this project, said Jacob Crawford, a senior scientist at Verily. So we can do it in poorer areas.

Mosquito factory in Verily Life Sciences Laboratory. From Bloomberg

Will mosquitoes be exterminated or will more people be killed?

More than 400,000 people die each year from malaria transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes alone, with children as the main infected population, and more than 200 million people will be disabled in a few days. Other mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever, have between 50 million and 100 million cases a year worldwide, and yellow fever has a higher fatality rate than dengue fever. Japanese encephalitis, which mainly occurs in Asia, kills more than 10,000 people every year. The Zhaika virus is transmitted from mother to child and has long-term destructive effects on the nervous system of offspring.

According to data from the Barcelona Institute of Global Health, there are more than 2,500 mosquitoes worldwide except Antarctica. Mosquitoes are very good at adapting to new environments, and they adapt quickly to the interventions people take. For example, Aedes aegypti is very adaptable to the urban environment, and it can lay eggs in various indoor and outdoor containers. Many mosquitoes, including Anopheles mosquitoes, have evolved resistance to insecticides, and they have even changed their predatory habits to avoid harm from nets and families spraying insecticides.

For these reasons, many scientists and institutions have chosen to deal with these killers in a more radical way.

In addition to Verilys extinction plan, attempts have been made around the world to curb the spread of viruses such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever through biological modification. In June 2018, Microsoft founder Bill GatesGates Foundation announced that it would spend $4.1 million to develop genetically modified male mosquitoes to carry self-limiting genes and mate with female mosquitoes in the wild to reduce the number of female mosquitoes biting humans, thereby curbing the spread of malaria.

The Eradication of Malaria project, led by Austin Burt, an evolutionary geneticist at Imperial College London, will also use gene-driven technology to create genetically modified Anopheles mosquitoes to reduce the number of Anopheles mosquitoes. They plan to test GM mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa as early as 2024 to stop the spread of malaria. However, it is not clear what will happen to the world if mosquitoes are extinct. In addition, some institutions and organizations are still concerned about gene-driven technology. In 2012, Eric Hoffman, a member of Friends of the Earth, said: These mosquitoes must not be tested until their environmental, human health and moral hazards are comprehensively and objectively analyzed. Prior to the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in 2018, representatives of more than 170 countries and regions proposed that a temporary release ban should be imposed on gene-driven organisms. The ban was rejected at the UN Conference on Biodiversity on November 29, but countries agreed that gene-driven technology should be used prudently. Source: Wang Fengzhi _NT2541

The Eradication of Malaria project, led by Austin Burt, an evolutionary geneticist at Imperial College London, will also use gene-driven technology to create genetically modified Anopheles mosquitoes to reduce the number of Anopheles mosquitoes. They plan to test GM mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa as early as 2024 to stop the spread of malaria.

However, it is not clear what will happen to the world if mosquitoes are extinct. In addition, some institutions and organizations are still concerned about gene-driven technology. In 2012, Eric Hoffman, a member of Friends of the Earth, said: These mosquitoes must not be tested until their environmental, human health and moral hazards are comprehensively and objectively analyzed.

Prior to the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in 2018, representatives of more than 170 countries and regions proposed that a temporary release ban should be imposed on gene-driven organisms. The ban was rejected at the UN Conference on Biodiversity on November 29, but countries agreed that gene-driven technology should be used prudently.