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Australian experiment kills over 80% of disease-spreading mosquitoes

An Aedes aegypti mosquitoe.
An Aedes aegypti mosquitoe that can spread dengue, Zika and chikungunya. Photo: App Gomes/AFP/Getty Images

In an experiment, Australian scientists killed more than 80% of the mosquitoes that spread dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya by using a sterilization technique in locations across north Queensland.

Why it matters: This experiment was conducted as part of a global effort to combat the pest that infects millions with disease each year, and its success offers a potential solution to controlling the spread of deadly illnesses.

How they did it: Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Verily and James Cook University (JCU) bred almost 20 million male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in a laboratory, infecting males with a naturally occurring bacteria that made them sterile.

  • More than three million of the males were later released in trial zones along the Cassowary Coast in Queensland. The sterile male mosquitoes mated with wild females, resulting in eggs that did not hatch.
"The invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito is one of the world’s most dangerous pests, capable of spreading devastating diseases like dengue, Zika and chikungunya and responsible for infecting millions of people with disease around the world each year,"
— CSIRO director of health and biosecurity Rob Grenfell, in a press release.

The process used in the study, known as the Sterile Insect Technique, has existed since the 1950s. However, this is one of the few times it has been successfully used for Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

Verily, an affiliate of Google parent company Alphabet, developed a mosquito rearing and sex sorting and release technology used in the study.

Editor's note: The text was updated to indicate that this study was not the first to use the SIT technique on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.