The agency said the finding marks an important step forward towards the large-scale deployment of this method to control the vectors of dengue, yellow fever and Zika.
The study, published in the journal Science Robotics, tested the use of a drone to release sterile mosquitoes as part of the sterile insect iechnique (SIT) – a form of insect birth control that has been used successfully for decades to fight agricultural pests such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and tsetse flies. Scientists have been working in recent years to develop the method also for mosquitoes.
The SIT uses radiation to sterilise mass-reared male insects, which are then released to mate with wild females. As these do not produce any offspring, the insect population declines over time.
The method requires the uniform release of large numbers of sterile male insects in good condition to compete with their wild counterparts. The drone prototype, tested in Brazil in 2018, can carry up to 50,000 sterile mosquitoes per flight, releasing them without loss of quality over 20 hectares of land in 10 minutes.
“The findings represent a major breakthrough for expanding the use of SIT against mosquitoes,” said lead author Jeremy Bouyer, a medical entomologist at the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)/IAEA Programme for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.