An important turning point in the war against mosquito-borne illness may have just occurred with the release of Wolbachia-infected Aedes mosquitoes in Fresno, California. Aedes mosquitoes have been a major scourge of humankind for centuries and are responsible for the spread of such major infectious diseases as yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.
These special male (non-biting) mosquitoes are infected with a bacterium that renders them sterile such that eggs produced after mating with a female are non-viable. Over time, as more sterile males are released it becomes difficult for females to couple with uninfected males and populations fall. Lower mosquito populations will translate into lower rates of human disease.
Wolbachia are an endlessly fascinating genus of bacteria that have the capacity to influence their hosts in interesting ways. Rendering male mosquitoes sterile is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Wolbachia infected worms responsible for filariasis may be responsible for the damage these parasites cause in humans and are a potential target for treatment. The implications Wolbachia have in biological systems and evolution are too numerous to list.
My hope is that these altered mosquitoes are tremendously successful and help construct a new a paradigm in the control of mosquito-borne diseases. Thankfully, these mosquitoes have managed to avoid the misplaced stigma placed on the related GMO mosquitoes -- which I also unequivocally support.
When it comes to eradicating Aedes mosquito species from the planet, it is important to realize that the standard of value that should be operative here is human life -- not mosquito life and not "pristine" nature.
As each species struggles to survive, all of the tools available are employed. For humans, our greatest tool and means of survival is our mind. These altered mosquitoes, the result of a chain of scientific discovery and achievement are stellar products of the human mind coping with the problem of improving human life and their release is a cause of celebration.