Last year, Prof. Anthony James announced that he and his colleagues had genetically altered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes
in a fashion that could drastically reduce their populations. In a nutshell, the altered genes cause the female mosquitoes to be born without wings – this makes it rather difficult for them to go foraging for blood, and turns them into easy prey for almost any predator. The non-biting males are born with
wings, and subsequently go off and mate with un
modified females, passing the modified genes along to their offspring. Now, James has done some more genetic engineering, to create mosquitoes that can’t spread malaria.
For many of us, mosquitoes are an irritating pest that can ruin any number of outdoor activities. For many others, however, they are also spreaders of malaria – a disease which infected approximately 216 million people in 2010, according to an estimate by the World Health Organization. Repeatedly slathering on bug repellant is one way of dealing with the insects, although wearing clothing made from mosquito-repellant fabric sounds a lot more preferable. While existing mozzie-unfriendly garments have some limitations, Portuguese tech company Nanolabel has developed a new treatment process that it claims is far superior to traditional technology.
With malaria still responsible for millions of untimely deaths in more than 90 countries each year, the search for effective antimalarial drugs, vaccines
and mosquito repellents
continues to heat up. Recently, researchers at the University of Illinois (UI), led by chemistry professor Eric Oldfield, found that a chemically-altered form of a commonly prescribed osteoporosis drug can easily enter red blood cells and dispatch malaria parasites without harming the host (in this case, a mouse). That's potentially huge news for the countless thousands who continue to suffer from this recurrent, debilitating and all-too-often fatal disease.
War, plague, famine, heart disease, cigarettes, road trauma: six very effective killers of human beings. But they're all amateurs when their records are compared to the number one mass murderer of all time. The humble mosquito
, and the deadly diseases it carries, is estimated to have been responsible for as many as 46 billion deaths over the history of our species. That staggering number is even more frightening in context - it means that mosquitoes are alleged to have killed more than half the humans that ever lived
. So if any species deserves the full wrath of human technology, this is the one. And here, it seems, is how we might take our revenge - genetically modified strains of mosquito that are designed to cripple their own offspring and systematically destroy entire populations. And these mutant, auto-genocidal mozzies are already loose in the wild.
You're in the middle of a great chat with friends on a warm summer night, and then "ouch" a mosquito interrupts your conversation with a bite on your forearm. Experimental physicist Szabolcs Marka hopes to make this occurrence a thing of the past, but in this case it's not aerosol spray or roll-on-repellant keeping the bugs at bay, it's a wall of light.
Mosquitoes are perhaps useful for something after all, besides feeding frogs. Along with his colleagues at Osaka’s Kansai University, mechanical engineer Seiji Aoyagi has created an almost pain-free hypodermic needle that is based on a mosquito’s proboscis. Perhaps surprisingly, the needle’s patient-friendliness comes from the fact that its outer surface is jagged, not smooth.
After malaria, dengue fever is the most serious mosquito-borne disease in the world. In an effort to curb its spread, researchers from New Orleans’ Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine have developed mosquito traps that attract and kill egg-bearing females. Using a US$4.6 million grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the scientists plan to distribute 10,000 of the traps in Peru’s Iquitos region, an area known for dengue fever.
A research project that began in 2004 and involved 38 institutions around the world has culminated in the sequencing of the Culex
mosquito genome. Culex
is one of the three mosquito genera, the other two – Anopheles
– having already been sequenced in 2002 and 2007, respectively. It is also the genus that obtains the West Nile virus from infected birds and transmits it to humans. Scientists hope that by better understanding the mosquito, they may be better able to control the spread of the virus.
Mosquitoes could be having a tough time of it before too long. First, scientists announced an experimental new technology that utilizes gene-silencing nanoparticles
to keep mosquito larvae from fully developing their protective exoskeletons. This leaves them much more vulnerable to insecticides, once they become adults. Now we have word of another study, in which researchers have identified a natural, environmentally-friendly chemical compound that causes female skitters to go elsewhere to lay their eggs.
To most Gizmag readers, mosquitoes are at most a pesky nuisance - for others of course, particularly in more tropical areas, they're a genuine killer, spreading all sorts of diseases as they feed on the blood of their victims. Either way, the mosquito female's habit of biting humans puts mozzies high on the list of most hated insects - so many will appreciate this study from Kansas State University, in which researchers have successfully used nanoparticles impregnated with gene-silencing dsRNA to specifically target particular genes in mosquito larvae. A small supply of these nanoparticles, added to a still water breeding ground, can kill mozzie larvae as they grow, or at the least, render them much more susceptible to insecticides… And the process is fascinating.