Agriculture

Company seeks to release virus-killing mosquitoes may into the Valley. Here’s where.

Another round of genetically-engineered mosquitoes could soon be coming to the Central Valley. 

Biotechnology company Oxitec develops pest-control measures, one of which includes genetically engineered mosquitoes that would curb the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. 

The Aedes aegypti mosquito first appeared in the Golden State in 2013, spreading to over 20 counties and increasing the risk of transmission of several diseases such as Zika and yellow fever. 

In 2017, Verily – the life sciences company owned by Alphabet – released 20 million lab-made mosquitoes in Fresno as part of its Debug Fresno project. 

Those mosquitoes were engineered with the Wolbachia bacteria, which is harmless to humans, to prevent their eggs from producing offspring when they mate. 

Verily released around one million mosquitoes over a 20-week period throughout parts of Fresno. 

Notably, Verily’s mosquitoes were male, meaning they were not biters. 

Oxitec could run a similar program this year in Tulare County. 

Oxitec already received approval from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a pilot program in Florida. 

Last month, the EPA also gave Oxitec the go-ahead to expand into California, as long as the Golden State approves. 

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) is currently consulting with the California Department of Public Health, the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and the Delta Mosquito and Vector Control District, among other agencies, to decide whether or not to grant approval to Oxitec. 

Additionally, the CDPR is also seeking input from the public through April 19. The public can submit comments over email to mosquito.ra@cdpr.ca.gov

If the CDPR grants approval, Oxitec will be allowed to release up to two million genetically engineered mosquitoes in the state by 2024. 

While the location of the release sites have not yet been determined, Oxitec would release between 5,000-30,000 mosquitoes every week at every site.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.