EPA approves bacteria-infected insects to kill mosquitoes

No one likes the idea of being bitten by a mosquito, especially if that pesky pest is also carrying around viruses as deadly as yellow fever, dengue and Zika.

But what if you could eradicate the diseased insects by releasing assassin versions of mosquitoes to kill them off?

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a new approach from the biotech company MosquitoMate. The goal is to destroy populations of wild mosquitoes that could be carrying nasty viruses, according to a report in the journal Nature.

Instead of relying on genetic engineering, MosquitoMate infects lab-grown mosquitoes with the common bacterium Wolbachia pipientis, which affects mosquitoes but not animals or humans. 

The Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes, which don't bite, mate with the wild populations of female Asian tiger mosquitoes, which do bite. The eggs fertilized by MosquitoMate's male mosquitoes won't hatch because the paternal chromosomes don't form properly due to the effects of the bacterium.

MosquitoMates plans to release its insects this summer in 20 states and in Washington D.C., starting with Kentucky, where the company is based.

While the idea of bacteria-armed mosquitoes doing the dirty work for us by killing off their deadly cousins sounds like a great idea, the MosquitoMate lab techs still have to separate the male from the female lab-grown mosquitoes by hand. The process is time consuming to say the least. 

Considering that it must take millions of these lab mosquitoes to be released in a city in order to suppress the population of wild mosquitoes, the company will probably have to consider creating a faster, more efficient way of separating the sexes. 

Lab-grown, genetically modified mosquitoes that kill pests have already been successfully tested in other countries including China and Brazil. However, MosquitoMate hopes its GMO-free solution to destroying deadly mosquitoes will earn the praise from those of us who want a more natural way of keeping mosquitoes that could end up making us sick out of our yards. 

"Unlike traditional mosquito control, we don't show up after you have a problem," according to MosquitoMate. "By acting proactively, your population of Asian tiger mosquitoes will not reach a nuisance level."

MosquitoMate did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its recent EPA approval or lab processes. 

This article was originally published on CNET