Alphabet's Verily takes its disease-fighting automated sex sorter for mosquitoes to Queensland

CSIRO and the life sciences arm of Google's parent have teamed up to release millions of sterilised males in Queensland.


A problematic Queensland male

(Image: CSIRO)

Australia's James Cook University (JCU), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and Alphabet's Verily have completed a mosquito suppression trial in a bid to help the fight against disease-spreading mosquitoes.

The trial used Sterile Insect Technique, the CSIRO said, which involves rearing "huge numbers" of non-biting sterilised male mosquitoes, while removing the biting females. For this trial, scientists at JCU needed to raise 20 million mossies to produce the 3 million males required. This is where Verily helped out.

"Verily's technology enabled us to do the sex sorting faster and with much higher accuracy," Dr Kyran Staunton of James Cook University said.

The results of the trial was that 80 percentage of the target mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, was suppressed along Queensland's Cassowary Coast.

"We are particularly thankful to the people of Innisfail for their strong support, which has been incredible," Verily's Nigel Snoad said.

"We came to Innisfail with CSIRO and JCU to see how this approach worked in a tropical environment where these mosquitoes thrive, and to learn what it was like to operate our technology with research collaborators as we work together to find new ways to tackle these dangerous mosquitoes."

CSIRO director of Health and Biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell said that although most mosquitoes don't spread diseases, three species found across the globe are responsible for 17 percent of all infectious disease transmissions.

"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," Grenfell said.

"Increased urbanisation and warming temperatures mean that more people are at risk, as these mosquitoes which were once relegated to areas near the equator forge past previous climatic boundaries."

Verily completed a similar sterile mosquito release in California last year against the same species.

At the time, Verily said its processes make the release of 1 million insects per week possible.

Verily was previously known as Google Life Sciences.

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