The Environmental Protection Agency registered on Nov. 3 a new biopesticide, called ZAP Males, that aims to dramatically inhibit the spread of blood-borne diseases affecting humans — including the Zika virus — by reducing the mosquito populations that spread them.
Mosquitoes infected with ZAP Males are now approved for release in New York and 19 other states. According to a report by Nature.com, the EPA chose the 20 states because they are most similar to the places where ZAP Males were tested: Kentucky, New York and California.
ZAP Males target Asian Tiger mosquitoes and other species known to bite humans. It is a particular strain of the Wolbachia bacterium, according to epa.gov, and is only placed in contact with male mosquitoes, as male mosquitoes do not bite humans. Wolbachia are naturally occurring bacteria commonly found in most insect species, according to the EPA.
The idea is that infected males will mate with females, and the Wolbachia strain will prevent the offspring from surviving. So, ironically, by releasing more mosquitoes into the environment scientists will ultimately reduce the population of the disease-spreading insects.
The EPA has only approved a five-year window for the deployment of ZAP Males mosquitoes, though MosquitoMate — the company that developed ZAP Males — is seeking permission to extend the program, as well as expand to all 50 states, according to Popular Mechanics.