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Alphabet’s life sciences arm Verily says it has built a mosquito robot that can raise a million insects a week. The company says it has started releasing the first batches of 20 million sterilized mosquitoes in Fresno County, California.

This field trial is expected to be the largest U.S. release to-date of male mosquitoes treated with Wolbachia, a type of naturally-occurring bacteria that infects many types of insects. Verily says it is using custom-built software algorithms and robots to ramp up the number of mosquitoes it’s able to grow and release. The company first announced plans last October that it was developing infertile mosquitoes designed to deplete populations of the bug to fight diseases like Zika virus and dengue fever.

Verily’s effort represents a growing interest by industry and nonprofit organizations to use altered insects to stop the transmission of deadly diseases and protect crops from agricultural pests. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also exploring the idea of sterilized mosquitoes, and U.K. company Oxitec is genetically engineering moths with a so-called “self-limiting gene” that makes the insects die off over time (see “Are Altered Mosquitoes a Public Health Project, or a Business?”).

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MIT Technology Review

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