While Bill Gates is perhaps best known for his work in co-founding Microsoft and the development of the Windows operating system, he’s also gained quite a reputation as a philanthropist and humanitarian. Alongside his wife, Melinda, the two have helped to tackle a variety of social and global issues through their charitable foundation, the aptly named Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
From reproductive health care and STD control, to agricultural research, the two have worked to tackle a wide range of problems. Still, the foundation’s single biggest focus has been on the control of malaria and other infectious diseases, having committed over $7 billion in funding between 2009 and 2015.
Their newest focus is an attempt to create a new breed of killer mosquito that kills off one another through sex, as reported by Fox News. This is all in an attempt to help curb the spread of malaria, which is primarily transmitted from bites by infected mosquitoes.
So, how exactly will these killer mosquitoes work? The plan is to first develop and create genetically modified male mosquitoes, which will contain a self-limiting gene. Once these males breed with female mosquitoes, any offspring will die before they reach adulthood, thanks to the gene. Better yet, since only female mosquitoes bite, any of the newly-engineered male mosquitoes will not present any danger to humans, or any other animal.
If this idea sounds a little familiar, that’s because it probably is. The proposed genetically engineered mosquitoes are set to be developed by U.K. company Oxitec. The company’s creation, dubbed “Friendly Mosquitoes,” have already been developed to help combat the Zika virus, another infectious disease that is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites.
Field trials for mosquitoes meant to curb the spread of Zika virus have been largely successful. Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, approximately 3.3 million modified male mosquitoes were released on Grand Cayman (the largest island of the Cayman Islands), starting in 2009. Approximately 11 weeks after release, the mosquito population (of the same species) was observed to have declined by 80 percent.
In 2016, Grand Cayman announced a new program to use Oxitec-developed mosquitoes to combat the Zika virus, amidst the 2015-2016 Zika fever epidemic. An area with around 1,800 residents was treated, and the amount of mosquito eggs dropped by close to 90 percent, compared to an untreated area of similar size and population.
Still, Oxitec has a lot of work ahead, as an entirely new breed of mosquito will need to be developed to combat malaria. The company expects its mosquitoes to be ready for trials and further testing in 2020.