Alphabet takes aim at disease-bearing blood suckers
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Alphabet takes aim at disease-bearing blood suckers

Google parent Alphabet Inc. has an interest in health care. The Silicon Valley titan counts Verily Life Sciences and Calico Life Sciences as its children, and other subsidiaries, like Deepmind, routinely veer into healthcare-related territories. But Alphabet’s latest venture is ambitious even by its own standards: the company has decided to wage war on mosquitoes, and hopes to eradicate mosquito-borne diseases from the globe!

Alphabet’s share price rose 4% last week

graph 03 alphabet

Source: Yahoo Finance

Scientists at Verily have used an automated mosquito rearing system to breed 80,000 of the parasitical mites and infected them with the common bacterium Wolbachia. The result is that these mosquitos – which are all male – will perform a stealth attack on the general population: the eggs laid by the females they breed with will never hatch.

If this technique for controlling, or even eradicating, mosquito populations proves successful, Verily could have a blockbuster success on its hands. Numerous governments would be glad to have an answer to the health problems the bugs cause. Worldwide, they cause tens of thousands of deaths a year, and transmit diseases like the zika virus and dengue fever through their bite.

Early studies suggest Verily could be on to a winner. Last year, the company released 15 million mosquitos in Fresno, and it’s estimated that they cut “the population of biting female mosquitoes” by two-thirds (the females, which are bigger than males, are the only ones that bite). This year, they’ve done better, reducing the population by a staggering 95%. Another study in Australia, where the company released bugs in Innisfail, shows the local population reduced by 80%.

As to how much the program costs – Verily isn’t saying, exactly. However, Jacob Crawford, one of the company’s senior scientists, said: “The key part is trying to be able to do a program like this in a very affordable and efficient way. so that we can go to places where there isn’t a lot of money.”

Disclosure
Dominion holds Alphabet in its Global Trends Managed Fund.


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