Mosquitos are one of the deadliest creatures on Earth. In a town in northern Australia, more than 80 percent of the mosquitoes that spread dengue fever have been wiped out in a pioneering tropical trial. Scientists say the results could help global efforts to eradicate the dangerous pest.
In the trial, millions of male Aedes aegypti, or yellow fever mosquitoes, were bred in a laboratory and infected with a naturally occurring bacteria that made them sterile.
They were then released near the small farming town of Innisfail in Queensland, 1,600 kilometers (995 miles) north of Brisbane.
Over three months they mated with females who laid eggs that did not hatch, causing the population to fall by about 80 percent. The type of mosquito used in the trial is responsible for infecting hundreds of millions of people around the world with diseases such as dengue, Zika and yellow fever.
The project was run by researchers from Australia’s national science body, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, in a trial that received funding from Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
Dr. Rob Grenfell, the director of Health and Biosecurity at the CSIRO says the results are a major breakthrough.
“Now this is momentous in the sense that we have achieved a significant decrease in populations of mosquitoes in our test area here in northern Queensland,” he said. “But also to commemorate the incredible community that actually backed our science here, not only did they open their hearts and minds but also their homes to allow our scientists to come in and trap and test our mosquito-controlling technologies.”
Australian researchers want to test the technology overseas in an area with high levels of dengue. They believe it could be a valuable weapon against a public health menace.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost 4 billion people in 128 countries are at risk of contracting dengue. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected female mosquito. The WHO says that the global incidence of dengue has increased 30 times in the last 30 years.