What are some of the technologies and breakthroughs that fuel Debug?
We’ve been working hard on new approaches to: 1) automate the process of rearing millions of mosquitoes, 2) separate males from females with extremely high precision, and 3) release Debug’s good mosquitoes in the right place and in the right numbers. These advances are designed to both make mosquito and disease reduction efforts more successful, and to make the Sterile Insect Technique more cost effective and accessible to more places affected by mosquito-borne diseases. We plan on sharing more about what we’re developing in the future, but it’s proven essential to have great engineers and mosquito biologists working together.
Is anyone else doing projects like Debug?
There are several projects around the world looking at how sterile insect technology and Wolbachia can be used to combat mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit, including Aedes aegypti. There are pilot projects with Aedes aegypti and Wolbachia underway in the United States, planned for Singapore, and a number of studies with other types of mosquitoes, some dating back decades. All face similar problems of how to make a broader and sustainable impact on mosquito populations and demonstrate that they can protect against mosquito borne diseases.
How is this different from other mosquito-borne disease control initiatives?
Traditional methods of mosquito control include the reduction of breeding sites and application of pesticides, but it's difficult to have a sustainable impact using these techniques alone. Pesticides can be broadly toxic to the environment, and the emergence of insecticide resistance means they're becoming less effective over time. Targeting breeding sites is also a major challenge, because people can never find all the places mosquitoes live. Without effective vaccines for most mosquito-borne diseases, we have to target the mosquitoes that spread them.
Our approach is different because we are using data analytics, technology such as sensors and automation, and scientific expertise to scale the Sterile Insect Technique. We believe it could be far more effective than traditional methods while still being safe for humans and the environment. Plus, we can impact places that pesticides could never reach because the male mosquitoes we raise are finding the bad mosquitoes for us. You can read more about our method.
Are you targeting the vectors of other diseases or bugs in the future?
We're currently focused on the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but we hope to apply our approach to other insects in the future. Wolbachia techniques are already being studied on the Aedes albopictus (the “Asian tiger mosquito”) in limited field trials. We'll need to validate this with research.