EPA approves bio-engineered mosquitoes to combat disease

The federal government has approved a new bio-engineered "assassin mosquito" that could help diminish the wild mosquito populations that carry infectious diseases like Zika, Dengue fever and yellow fever by targeting reproduction, according to a recent report in the science journal Nature.

MoqutioMate, a biotechnology startup based in Lexington, Ky., infects male mosquitoes with the common, natural bacterium Wolbachia pipientis that specifically targets the reproduction of mosquitoes but does not harm animals, humans or other insects, according to the company's website. The hope is that these infected mosquitoes will diminish wild Asian tiger mosquito populations, which are prone to carry infectious diseases.

The lab-grown Asian tiger male mosquitoes, which don't bite, will be released into wild mosquito populations to mate with Asian tiger mosquito females, according to MosquitoMate. Their fertilized eggs won't hatch, though, as the bacterium in the infected males keeps paternal chromosomes from fully forming, stopping population growth.

RELATED: Genetically engineered mosquitoes to combat Zika

21 PHOTOS
Genetically engineered mosquitoes to combat Zika
See Gallery
Genetically engineered mosquitoes to combat Zika
PIRACABA, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11 :A Biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in the city on February 11, 2016 in Piracicaba, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A biologist works on putting blood on iron plates to feed the females of the nursery that produces genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A biologist works on putting blood on iron plates to feed the females of the nursery that produces genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
PIRACABA, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11 :A Biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in the city on February 11, 2016 in Piracicaba, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
PIRACABA, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11 :A Biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in the city on February 11, 2016 in Piracicaba, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: The Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, is producing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Campinas Daily are released 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito. These mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and win the battle because they were outnumbered. After the breeding season, the natural females lay eggs that are not genetically modified Zika virus transmitters. (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
PIRACABA, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11 :A Biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in the city on February 11, 2016 in Piracicaba, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified male mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified male mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist works with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
CAMPINAS, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11: A Biologist work with genetically modified mosquitoes on February 11, 2016 in Campinas, Brazil. Technicians from the Oxitec laboratory located in Campinas, 100km from Sao Paulo, are releasing genetically modified mosquitoes Aedes Egypti to combat Zika virus. The laboratory is acting in Piracicaba who had a dengue outbreak last summer with 132 cases and after treatment showed only two cases this summer .The Lab will release 250,000 genetically modified mosquitoes in two neighborhoods with a large concentration of incident cases of egypti aedes mosquito, the modified mosquitoes compete with wild mosquitoes and replace them with non-Zika transmitting mosquitoes . (Photos by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - FEBRUARY 10: Yira Paulino, an entomologist, works with Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus at a laboratory of the National Center for the Control of Tropical Diseases (CENCET) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on February 10, 2016. (Photo by Stringer /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - FEBRUARY 10: Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are seen at a laboratory of the National Center for the Control of Tropical Diseases (CENCET) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on February 10, 2016. (Photo by Stringer /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Though not yet formally announced, the EPA approved on Nov. 3 MosquitoMate's release of the infected mosquitoes in 20 states and Washington, D.C. starting next summer, according to Nature. The federal agency did not approve their release in much of the southeastern United States, which suffers from large populations of mosquitoes and a long mosquito season, because MosquitoMate has not yet performed field trials there.

Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate, told Nature that his company plans to submit an application to the EPA for a nationwide release after a recent successful trial period in the Florida Keys.

Similar lab-grown mosquito projects are underway in both Brazil – where the 2015 Zika outbreak led to large-scale releases of bioengineered mosquitoes – and China, which has a pilot program in Guangzhou that releases 5 million Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes each week.

RELATED: Plants that keep mosquitoes away

10 PHOTOS
Plants that keep mosquitoes away
See Gallery
Plants that keep mosquitoes away

Lemon Balm

Getty

Catnip

Getty

Peppermint

Getty

Basil

Getty

Sage and Rosemary

Getty

Lavender

Getty

Marigold

Getty

Scented Geranium

Getty

Citronella

Getty

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

Read Full Story