Australia may be the home of koalas, Tim Tams, and hipster coffee joints selling broccoli lattes, but the one thing it is really known for is its abundance of animals out to kill you. The humble mozzie might not draw as much attention as the huntsman spider but it can be far deadlier. Take the Aedes aegypti, also known as the yellow fever mosquito, as an example. The bloodsucking parasite has a well-earned reputation for spreading tropical diseases like Zika and dengue fever.
Now, thanks to an international partnership between Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Verily, and James Cook University, scientists have been able to eradicate more than 80 percent of these disease-carrying mozzies in three trial locations.
In what sounds like a self-defeating move, the team bred 20 million mosquitoes in a lab and proceeded to release 3 million in three towns on the Cassowary Coast last summer. Of course, these weren't your standard mozzies. These were male mosquitoes genetically engineered to be infertile. And because males don't bite (they prefer to chomp on plant nectar), there was no risk they would spread disease. Instead, they spent their time mating with females who went on to lay eggs that never hatched.
As a result, the population crashed. In just eight months (November 2017 to June 2018), the Aedes aegypti dropped 80 percent in the trial locations, which is good news for the residents of north Queensland.
"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," Rob Grenfell, CSIRO director of health and biosecurity, said in a statement.