Scientists plan to release millions of mosquitoes infected with a bacteria that reduces their ability to spread viruses throughout areas of Brazil and Colombia in an effort to fight the spread of Zika.
The mosquitoes will be infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia, which will take away their ability to pass on viruses to people.
The Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with U.S., U.K. and Brazilian governments, will fund the $18 million plan, which is also supported by the World Health Organization, The Guardian reports.
Wolbachia is currently present in 60% of insect species across the globe, but does not exist in the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses.
Researchers with the Eliminate Dengue Program have developed a way to transfer the bacteria to Aedes mosquitoes. Small-scale observational trials in Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia and Brazil have shown the Wolbachia-laden mosquitoes stopped the spread of dengue.
The rapid spread of Zika has provided researchers with the funding to attempt large-scale trials in urban areas of Brazil and Colombia, including Rio de Janiero, according to a release from Wellcome Trust. The Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are expected to breed with local mosquitoes and pass the bacteria on to their offspring, creating a self-sustaining project.
“Wolbachia could be a revolutionary form of protection against mosquito-borne disease,” said Dr. Trevor Mundel, president of the global health division of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue, and a host of other viruses. We’re eager to study its impact and how it can help countries.”