Alphabet’s Verily Launches Its First US Field Study

July 17, 2017 - Written By Dominik Bosnjak

Alphabet’s subsidiary Verily launched its first field study in the United States earlier this month, with the company officially announcing the Debug Fresno. The initiative is part of the Debug Project that the firm unveiled in late 2016, looking to combat disease-carrying mosquitoes in a wide variety of ways. Following nine months of research efforts, Verily is now set to start testing the techniques it developed after obtaining all of the necessary approvals from state and federal regulators in the country. Debug Fresno will see Verily collaborate with Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District (CMAD) and pest control service MosquitoMate to control mosquito populations in the Northern California county. The health company is hoping to achieve that using a special sterile insect technique (SIT), a biological insect control method that entails releasing massive numbers of infertile insects into the wild with the goal of reducing and stopping their overall population growth.

Verily and its partners are specifically looking to control the Aedes aegypti population that’s capable of carrying a number of dangerous diseases like chikungunya and Zika, and has been a growing problem in the Fresno County in recent years, having originally appeared in the area in 2013. The sterile male mosquitoes that Verily is now planning to release were all treated with the Wolbachia bacteria and will compete with fertile males over mating, the company said, adding that the effort should result in “a steep decline in the presence” of the species in Fresno County. Alphabet’s subsidiary didn’t provide a more specific time frame for the effectiveness of its field study, though the firm said that the initiative is set to last for the next five months, i.e. 20 weeks, and will encompass two neighborhoods that are around 300 acres in size each.

Verily has been active on a number of fronts in recent months, with the company lately investing in a $300 million biotech fund in Europe and obtaining an $800 million investment from Singapore-based investment firm Temasek. Being one of Alphabet’s most active “Other Bets,” Verily will likely continue announcing new initiatives on a relatively frequent basis by the end of the year, so an update on its efforts should follow shortly.