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The challenge

Finding ways to control or reduce mosquito populations

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is capable of transmitting viruses such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever, which make hundreds of millions of people sick around the world every year.

This originally African mosquito is now found in tropical regions in more than 120 countries, including Australia, where it’s currently established in northern parts of Queensland, but has previously been found in New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Western Australia too.

With mosquitoes such a prevalent global problem, a global collaborative response is essential to find ways to control or reduce Aedes aegypti populations to help prevent potential outbreaks of disease.

Our response

Debug Innisfail: studying new technologies to reduce Aedes aegypti populations in northern Queensland

In October 2016 we announced a collaboration with international partners Verily (an Alphabet company) and local partner James Cook University, as part of Verily’s Debug project. This project aimed to test whether new technologies can reduce Aedes aegypti populations in large urban landscapes.

After long-term monitoring of mosquito populations on the Cassowary Coast in northern Queensland, in 2016-2017 we conducted Mark, Recapture, Release (MRR) field studies in two communities to better understand the behaviour of the male Aedes aegypti mosquito.

In November 2017 we began Debug Innisfail, which aims to test whether new technologies can reduce Aedes aegypti populations in large urban landscapes. Debug Innisfail is trialling a Wolbachia-based sterile insect technique to rear and release sterile male mosquitoes, and monitoring to see if they reduce the population of Aedes aegypti in the area.

Following extensive community engagement and government regulatory approval, the project started releasing the sterile male mosquitoes in small communities in the Innisfail area in mid-November 2017 and wrapped up in June 2018.

The results

The Debug Innisfail study released millions of sterilised, non-biting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in parts of Innisfail

While a final analysis is underway, initial results of the Debug Innisfail study show that occurrence of the mosquito in trial release zones has decreased by more than 80 percent in just over three months.

This is a significant step towards a solution that could one day be used to remove the threat of mosquito-borne disease, not only for Australians but for affected countries globally.

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