609 - Los Angeles released 20,000 male mosquitoes to kill Aedes

Authorities in Los Angeles are using sterilized male mosquitoes exposed to radiation to eradicate the population of Aedes mosquitoes that spread infectious diseases.

In Los Angeles, a new weapon is being added to the fight against mosquitoes: sterilized male mosquitoes, according to NBC. On May 2, the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District (GLACVCD) launched a pilot program releasing tens of thousands of lab-bred mosquitoes into the local environment. All of these mosquitoes are males sterilized by radiation exposure. Authorities hope they will mate with wild females, rendering the eggs infertile with useless sperm.

The target of this initiative is the Aedes aegypti mosquito species. They began proliferating in Los Angeles in 2014 and have evolved to target humans. "Thousands of years ago, a strain of Aedes aegypti moved closer to humans, started living around houses, and began biting people," said Daniel Hahn, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida. "They are aggressive nuisance biters because they bite you all day."

Aedes aegypti thrive in yards and nest in small containers like bottle caps and dog food bowls. They can carry infectious diseases such as yellow fever, Chikungunya, Zika, and dengue fever, according to Susanne Kluh, General Manager of GLACVCD.

On May 2, GLACVCD released about 20,000 sterilized male mosquitoes, marked with a fluorescent dye to glow under UV light, as part of the final trial of the pilot program. Male Aedes mosquitoes do not bite humans, so experts claim the program poses almost no risk to people. Next month, GLACVCD plans to release 7 to 10 sterilized mosquitoes for every wild male mosquito in the target area of Sunland-Tujunga in Los Angeles. The number could increase to 60,000 mosquitoes per week.

This approach exemplifies how humans are employing new technologies to combat the spread of invasive mosquitoes and the diseases they carry in the context of climate change, global trade, and urbanization, which drive pests into new territories. Aedes aegypti is not native to the United States but has been present in some regions for hundreds of years.

In recent years, researchers have warned that higher temperatures due to climate change will expand the habitat range of mosquitoes. This is happening in Southern California. The state recorded its first two cases of locally acquired dengue fever last year, indicating that local mosquitoes are now transmitting the virus. Southern California is also experiencing urban and suburban development, expanding the habitat for Aedes aegypti.

The sterilized male mosquitoes are bred in a laboratory in Kentucky but developed from eggs collected in the Los Angeles area. Each week, GLACVCD plans to hatch mosquitoes in small boxes and then irradiate them using specialized equipment. After release, the irradiated mosquitoes only fly about 150 meters, according to Kluh.

The radiation affects the chromosomes in mosquito cells, preventing reproduction but still allowing the insects to fly and perform many other biological functions almost normally. Kluh stated that the mosquitoes do not become radioactive and pose no threat to the community. However, he acknowledged that expanding the program throughout Los Angeles County remains a challenge.
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