The United States could soon become the first country to approve the commercial use of a common bacterium to fight the spread of mosquitoes that can transmit viruses such as Zika, dengue and Chikungunya.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing an application from the biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate to use the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). The company plans to market Wolbachia as a pesticide — one that kills only mosquitoes, and leaves other insects untouched. The EPA’s decision on the matter will come after a public-comment period that ends on 31 May.
MosquitoMate’s strategy involves rearing mosquitoes infected with a particular strain of Wolbachia and releasing the males into the environment. When these male mosquitoes mate with wild females who do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don’t hatch, because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. As infected male mosquitoes continue to be released to breed with wild partners, the pest population dwindles.