Lexington company releasing mosquitoes to reduce the mosquito population

Published: Aug. 29, 2016 at 5:32 PM EDT
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A Lexington company is trying to reduce the number of mosquitoes by releasing more.

MosquitoMate has been developing sterile versions of the pest and releasing some into parts of the city.

"[We're] releasing more mosquitoes to control mosquitoes. We try to really emphasize that we only release male mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes do not bite," said Dr. Corey Brelsfoard.

MosquitoMate has released thousands of male mosquitoes, infected with a bacteria strain of Wolbachia, in the Elizabeth Street-area near Commonwealth Stadium over the past couple of summers, leading 80 percent reduction in mosquito density in the area.

Wolbachia is a naturally-occurring bacteria in tiger mosquitoes. According to MosquitoMate's website, "If a normal, tiger mosquito female mates with a male that carries the same Wolbachia type, then her eggs hatch."

MosquitoMate releases males that are infected with a different strain of Wolbachia, making the females' eggs unable to hatch. The bacterium is one that the scientists say is already found throughout nature.

"No chemicals involved, no genetic modifications used," Dr. Brelsfoard said.

The technology formed at the University of Kentucky in Dr. Stephen Dobson's lab. Brelsfoard and Jimmy Mains with MosquitoMate, worked on that technology while getting their PhD's.

The Asian Tiger Mosquito was the target of their field test here in Kentucky.

"It is a relatively new mosquito species here It is our main biting nuisance here in Lexington," said Dr. Jimmy Mains.

Releasing thousands of male mosquitoes in the Elizabeth street area. The result of the 80 percent reduction a big success for the technology.

"That is really a difference of going in your backyard and not noticing them versus going out and getting 50 bites in a couple of hours," explained Mains.

Itchy bites being certainly unpleasant however the possible effects of the winged nuisance much larger than their bite.

"Mosquitoes are classified as the most dangerous animals species in the world. They are responsible for more deaths than sharks, tigers, and crocodiles...combined," said Mains.

A reality that is certainly been highlighted as of late

"Zika has really brought to the attention something that mosquito control folks have known for awhile. That these mosquito species that have recently invaded the U.S. and South America and other places are a big problem. They not only can transmit Zika but also Malaria, Chikungunya virus, and dog heart work. Zika really highlights the risks and potential dangers," said Mains.

Those concerns paired with the success seen in the Lexington trial, leading the team to target the yellow fever species which can transmit Zika and is found in Fresno California. While there have not been any local transmission cases there have been travel related cases of disease.

"That is why they are worried about it because it is there it could happen," said Brelsfoard.

That concern leading the mosquito control district there to contact MosquitoMate here in the Bluegrass State.

MosquitoMate now shipping thousands of male mosquitoes twice a week to California. The infected mosquitoes are being released in a Fresno neighborhood.

MosquitoMate is currently still in the trial phase. They're hopeful they'll soon receive the necessary licenses and approvals allowing them to offer the technology commercially to individuals.