We're combining Verily’s scientific and engineering expertise with the help of international partners to raise good bugs and release them to stop the bad bugs.
Read on to learn the science behind Debug.
Our Method
Better tech means more good bugs.

We're using an idea that's been around since the 1950s. It's called the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), and it has worked on other kinds of bugs — like fruit flies, screwworms, and codling moths. The idea is simple: raise sterile males and release them into wild insect populations. When a wild female mates with a sterile male, her eggs won’t hatch. The population gets smaller with each generation.

But it’s never worked with mosquitoes at a large enough scale to stop diseases from being transmitted. Mosquitoes are fragile and difficult to rear in the necessary numbers. With Debug, we’re developing new technologies to make it possible.


Step 1
Develop

We're working on a number of methods to raise sterile male mosquitoes.

One approach we're testing is to use mosquitoes infected with a naturally-occurring bacteria called Wolbachia, which is present in many insect species, including some mosquitoes. This bacteria makes the mosquitoes unable to breed with wild mosquitoes, which don’t have Wolbachia, so we can raise and release sterile males to mate with wild females.

This approach to mosquito population reduction has been tested in small scale trials around the world since the 1960s, with many more studies starting in the past few years.

Wolbachia image source: Wu et al. 2004 / CC-BY

Step 2
Rear

To stop the spread of disease, we need to raise millions and millions of sterile male mosquitoes. That's why our team of engineers and scientists are building automated rearing systems that can raise enough good bugs to decrease the wild mosquito population.


Step 3
Separate

Male mosquitoes can’t bite, so they don’t spread disease. That’s why we’ll only release males. Separating male and female mosquitoes is currently a slow, manual process. We’re developing new technologies that combine sensors, algorithms, and novel engineering to take advantage of unique aspects of mosquito biology to quickly and accurately sort males from females.


Step 4
Release

After we separate the males from the females, we'll release sterile males into the wild. Male mosquitoes seek out females to mate with, finding them in places that pesticides could never reach.

Releasing the right number of good bugs in the right places is critical, so we’re building software and monitoring tools to guide each release. And since male mosquitoes can’t bite, people in the areas where we release them won’t get bitten any more than usual.


Step 5
Reduce

When a sterile male mates with a wild female, she'll still lay eggs. But because those eggs won't hatch, the next generation will be smaller. We will continue to release sterile males to significantly reduce or possibly eliminate the local population.


Step 6
Monitor & repeat

We need to monitor where bad bugs live and how quickly the population size changes before, during, and after we release sterile male mosquitoes. Even if we eliminate bad bugs in an area, they could still come back without proper monitoring and targeted releases. That's why our engineers and scientists are developing new sensors, traps, and software to better determine which areas need to be treated and re-treated.

Our First Target
We're starting with one bad bug

Out of over 3,500 different species of mosquito, just one, Aedes aegypti, transmits most of the cases of dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and chikungunya. Forty percent of the world is at risk of contracting a disease spread by Aedes aegypti. This mosquito has evolved to live around humans and we have carried them around the world with us. Today, Aedes aegypti is an invasive species just about everywhere it is found.