Killer mosquitoes on mission to save mankind


Mad scientists load blood-sucking flying insects with toxic chemical bombs which are then dropped killing millions of their own kind. Science fiction? Think again. Not-so-mad researchers working in the Amazon city of Iquitos in Peru, have turned normal adult mosquitoes, the Dengue (and Yellow Fever) carrier Aedes aegypti, into infanticidal beasts by making them carry an insecticide to their breeding sites thus killing most of the eggs and larvae living there.

The insecticide, placed in resting areas of the mosquitoes, will stick to the insects’ bodies when they fly off to aquatic habitat to lay eggs. There, the insecticide will destroy immature mosquitoes at that site and wherever else they fly to deposit more eggs.

This is a huge breakthrough in mosquito control, say experts. It replaces costly and not very effective spraying of habitats, many of them hidden and cryptic, where mosquitoes lay their eggs and larvae develop. The method is also relevant to small island states where human settlements are clustered in coastal areas because it involves the control of mosquitoes that develop in small, protected aquatic habitats in urban areas

The senior author Gregor J. Devine and his colleagues from the UK, Peru, Tanzania and the US have published this work entitled “Using adult mosquitoes to transfer insecticides to Aedes aegypti larval habitats” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of June 29 http://www.pnas.org/content/106/28/11530.full

The insecticide used is called pyriproxyfen which is an equivalent of an insect juvenile hormone. In the study it was placed at dissemination stations in a known resting area of mosquitoes in a cemetery in Iquitos. The pyriproxyfen was placed in only 3 to 5 percent of the total resting area, but it destroyed 42 to 98 percent of mosquitoes about to emerge at each breeding site.

Pyriproxyfen does not interfere with the fundamental behaviors of mosquitoes because it is neither lethal nor repellent to adults. “It is the act of oviposition (egg-laying) that contaminates the aquatic habitat, so the technique explicitly and precisely targets the mosquitoes’ preferred breeding sites.” the paper says.

Pyriproxyfen is also harmless to humans It is registered for public health use and the World Health Organization states that it is safe for drinking at 300 parts per billion, which is 1000 times the dose used by the researchers in the study.

Globally, 50 million dengue infections annually result in 500,000 cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever and 22,000 deaths. The most severe form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), strikes a half million people a year. Dengue is spread by Aedes aegypti as well as the Asian Tiger Mosquito Aedes albopictus, a widely occurring mosquito in Seychelles

The results of this study have now raised hopes that not just Dengue but other mosquito borne diseases can finally be controlled in our lifetime.

Author: Dr. Nirmal Shah

Nirmal is a well-known and a passionate personality in the Seychelles environmental and sustainability scene having an encyclopedic knowledge of Seychelles biodiversity as well as a wealth of experience in environment management. He has worked in senior positions in the parastatal, government, private and NGO sectors and consulted for international organizations such as the World Bank, IUCN, UNEP, Sida and UNESCO. He has appeared on CNN, BBC, Radio France, PBS, NBC, ABC, SABC and others

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