• U.S.
    Bloomberg

    A Google Plan to Wipe Out Mosquitoes Appears to Be Working

    (Bloomberg) -- An experimental program led by Google parent Alphabet Inc. to wipe out disease-causing mosquitoes succeeded in nearly eliminating them from three test sites in California’s Central Valley.Stamping out illness caused by mosquitoes is one of Alphabet unit Verily’s most ambitious public-health projects. The effort appears to be paying off, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Monday. Verily is also running coronavirus triage and testing in parts of California. Bradley White, the lead scientist on the Debug initiative, said mosquito-suppression is even more important during the pandemic, so that outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever don’t further overwhelm hospitals.Since 2017, the company has released millions of lab-bred Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes into several Fresno County neighborhoods during mosquito season. The insects are bred in Verily labs to be infected with a common bacterium called Wolbachia. When these male mosquitoes mate with females in the wild, the offspring never hatch.In results of the trial published on Monday, Verily revealed that throughout the peak of the 2018 mosquito season, from July to October, Wolbachia-infected males successfully suppressed more than 93% of the female mosquito population at field test sites. Only female mosquitoes bite.Working with the local mosquito abatement district and MosquitoMate, which developed the mosquitoes originally, Verily released as many as 80,000 mosquitoes each day in three neighborhoods from April 2018 through October 2018. In most collections, per night Verily found one or zero female mosquitoes in each trap designed to monitor the population. At other sites without the lab-bred bugs, there were as many as 16 females per trap.“We had a vision of what this should look like and we managed to do that pretty perfectly,” said Jacob Crawford, a senior scientist on the Debug project.In the arid climate of the Central Valley, disease is an unlikely result of a mosquito bite. But in the hot, humid regions of the tropics and subtropics, diseases caused by the Aedes aegypti, such as dengue fever, Zika virus and chikungunya, kill tens of thousands of people every year. Releasing masses of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes into the wild might wipe out entire populations of deadly mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.Verily is not the only organization pursuing an end to mosquito-borne disease. Microsoft Corp. co-Founder Bill Gates has pledged more than $1 billion to help wipe out malaria, including controversial efforts to genetically modify mosquitoes. Infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia, which occurs naturally in some mosquito species, is a popular approach rooted in an old insect control strategy called sterile insect technique. What Verily’s efforts offer is not just evidence that Wolbachia can help wipe out disease-causing mosquitoes but potential ways to make such efforts work on a massive scale. Last year, Verily released about 14.4 million mosquitoes in Fresno County.Initial small-scale Fresno trials in 2016, run by an upstart called MosquitoMate, were the first time male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with the bacteria were ever released in the U.S. The following year, Verily stepped in, bringing more advanced technology to the breeding and release process that could make it possible to expand such efforts to entire cities or regions.The new paper details many of those technologies, such as an automated process for separating male and female mosquitoes in the lab, and software that helps to determine exactly where to release altered male mosquitoes for maximum effectiveness.“Once you try to start rearing hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes a week, you run into all sorts of problems,” said White. “Mosquitoes may be everywhere, but they are really finicky and difficult to grow.”Verily has expanded its partnerships to include Singapore’s National Environment Agency. Trials there have entered a fourth phase to cover 121 urban residential blocks and about 45,000 residents. Verily is eyeing partnerships in South America and is in talks to launch in the Caribbean.Within a few years, said Crawford, Verily hopes the program will cover entire regions. Without intervention, he said, the public health toll of mosquito-born illness will only grow.“This is something that’s not going away on its own,” he said.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • World
    Quartz

    Wuhan’s traumatized residents warn that the lifting of lockdowns is “not the end”

    As the disease has spread around the world, with reported cases and deaths in the US and other European countries now far outstripping that of China and once unimaginable lockdowns now becoming the norm everywhere, the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan now feel like distant memories. At the start of the lockdown there, videos and posts circulated widely on Chinese social networks depicting the desperation of the situation. Hospitals were overwhelmed amid an acute shortage of testing kits and beds.

  • U.S.
    Storyful

    Drone Video of Mass Burial at New York's Hart Island Described as Showing Inmates Working Amid Virus Outbreak

    A drone video from The Hart Island Project, an advocacy group rallying for the public to visit the mass cemetery on New York’s Hart Island, was described as showing inmates burying bodies, en masse, on April 2, amid the coronavirus pandemic.The video shows wooden coffins inside mass graves on the island, which has been used as New York’s public cemetery for decades. Inmates and a police bus can be seen in the video, as former inmate Vincent Mingalone narrated the footage, describing his time on the burial detail. Mingalone can be heard in the video saying he was serving six months at Rikers Island for disobeying a court order before his release on February 18.In the video, Mingalone said the prison only enlisted the help of inmates to bury bodies on Thursdays, and the Thursday burials ranged from 11 to 24 bodies per trip. Melinda Hunt, the Hart Island Project board president, told reporters 23 bodies were buried on Thursday, April 2.Mingalone said he would work on the truck unloading coffins and his job was to write the name of the deceased on the outside of the coffin and map the plot. He would then pass the body to three inmates, who would pass it to three inmates “inside the pit”, the burial location. Each coffin would be stacked three high, and they would “continue the process until the truck was empty.”Once the coffins were placed in the grave, they would pack the coffins with sand and soil, and “we would leave the pit until next week’s burial.”“I must say, we did take pride in what we did and we knew we were the only ones there for these people and you know, it’s just always intriguing that there’s so many stories, like we didn’t know this person, we didn’t see this person, they’re inside of a box. All we know is a name and date of death, but we always wondered if this person serve me coffee, was this person a janitor in a building, or what did this person do in life that they ultimately wound up here alone? We did the best we could with dignity and we handled the bodies carefully,” he said in the video.According to reports, prisoners were offered $6 per hour to perform the burials and given personal protective equipment (PPE). The offer was made to those prisoners with convictions, and not to those awaiting trial, the report said. Mingalone can be heard in the video expressing concern about the lack of available workers, considering some New York prisons or jails are releasing prisoners amid the outbreak.The Hart Island Project posted the footage and had shared similar footage in the past in an effort to encourage the public to visit the island, which in November became accessible parkland.Hart told Storyful: “Hart Island is a beautiful location and the burials are conducted with respect. I do not think New Yorkers should fear Hart Island burials. The Parks Department will restore the landscape and it will be one of our most beloved parks.”On Tuesday, April 7, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said 731 people died in the city since Monday, April 6. New York City has been declared an epicenter of the virus. Credit: The Hart Island Project via Storyful