The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its partners have successfully tested releasing sterile mosquitoes from drones as part of efforts to use a nuclear technique to suppress the insect that spreads Zika and other diseases.
The IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has worked with the Swiss-American non-profit group WeRobotics for the last year to develop a drone-based mosquito release mechanism for use in the application of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to control insect pests. Testing of the system was carried out in Brazil last month.
SIT, a form of insect birth control, uses radiation to sterilize male mosquitos, which are then released to mate with wild females. As these do not produce any offspring, the insect population declines over time.
“The release mechanism for mosquitos has until now been a bottleneck in the application of SIT to control human diseases,” said Jeremy Bouyer, medical entomologist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. “The use of drones is a breakthrough, and paves the way for large-scale and cost-efficient releases, also over densely populated areas.”
The technique requires the uniform release of large numbers of insects in good condition over a given area. Aedes mosquitos, responsible for the spread of diseases, do not disperse for more than 100 meters in their lifetime, creating a challenge for the effective application of SIT over large areas. They are also fragile, and high-altitude releases by airplanes – often used in the application of the technique for other insects – may damage their wings and legs.