Buzz on Buzz: Drones Full of Mosquitoes to Fight Disease


Sometimes two annoying wrongs can make a right.

At least that's the hope of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials who have dreamed up a scheme to fill drones with sterile mosquitoes to help fight diseases like Zika.

The organization reported Thursday that it and its partners successfully tested a "drone-based mosquito release" in Brazil in March. The idea is to release a cloud of special male mosquitoes, which have been sterilized through radiation, that would mate with females and pass on the sterility. Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), as it's called, is meant to gradually erode the population of the potentially disease-carrying insects.

"The release mechanism for mosquitoes has until now been a bottleneck in the application of SIT to control human diseases," Jeremy Bouyer, medical entomologist at the UN's Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, said in a release. "The use of drones is a breakthrough, and paves the way for large-scale and cost-efficient releases, also over densely populated areas."

Related: Ex-Intel Official Warns About Chinese Drone 'Swarms'

According to the IAEA, the particular type of mosquitoes targeted do not travel more than 100 in their whole lives, making it difficult to spread out the sterile mosquitoes over large areas. The bugs are also fragile creatures, and plane-based releases tend to gravely injure them.

"The biggest challenge in designing this mechanism was keeping the mosquitoes healthy and competitive while transporting and releasing them at cool temperatures" said Adam Klaptocz, co-founder of WeRobotics, which partnered with the IAEA on the project. "We're pleased with initial tests that show less than 10 per cent mortality through the entire chilling, transport and aerial release process."

The IAEA said it's still working with its partners to make the drones both lighter and capable of carrying more sterile mosquitoes.

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