In a big step toward catching up with the rest of the world, the United States cleared the way for using mosquitoes as a commercial pest control for the first time.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved using a strain of male Asian tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) as a biopesticide in the District of Columbia and 20 states, including California and New York. Kentucky-based MosquitoMate was granted the right to sell these mosquitoes, called ZAP Males, for the next five years, the agency announced November 7.
These male mosquitoes are not genetically modified. Instead they carry a strain of Wolbachia bacteria that turns them into saboteur dads. When they mate with wild females not carrying the strain, the offspring will die and the population should dwindle. Males don’t bite, so releasing them should not add extra vexation.
Releases of Wolbachia-bearing mosquitoes for pest control already go on in other countries, such as Brazil, although with a different bacterial strain and a different strategy.
This same company has also been testing the effectiveness of a different mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, also carrying bad-dad Wolbachia, near Key West, Fla. (These mosquitoes are not commercially available.) The tests “ended a bit early due to [Hurricane] Irma,” says Stephen Dobson of MosquitoMate, “but we think that we have some good data despite this complication.”