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Rocket Scientists Shoot Down Mosquitoes with Lasers!
Well that was the headline in the Wall Street Journal. Fact, Fiction or an April's Fool Joke?
Fact - When American rocket scientists proposed the ‘Star Wars’ defense system to knock Soviet missiles from the skies with laser beams, little did they realize that 25 years later scientists would be aiming their lasers at another airborne threat – the mosquito. The Cold War missile-defense strategy has been reborn according to an article published in the Wall Street Journal (March 14, 2009). Now dubbed WMD, or Weapon of Mosquito Destruction, this time round the scientists’ actual target is malaria.
Transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, malaria kills between one and three million people worldwide each year. Efforts to eradicate the disease had stalled until high-profile philanthropist Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp focused worldwide attention on mosquito-borne diseases, and re-launched the war on Malaria.
The plasmodium parasite that causes malaria has become increasingly drug resistant prompting scientists to look at new ways to combat the killer disease. Grants from the not-for-profit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are designed to encourage scientists to pursue bold ideas that could lead to breakthroughs on ways to prevent and treat infectious diseases.
Weapon of Mosquito Destruction
The laser research was funded by Gates, and commissioned by Intellectual Ventures, a Washington-based company founded by former Microsoft executive, Joseph Myhrvold. Together with astrophysicist and ‘Star Wars’ architect, Dr Lowell Wood, Myhrvold came up with the idea of using lasers on mosquitoes. The laser is designed to detect the audio frequency of beating wings, zero in on the bug and burn it on the spot, according to project lead scientist Dr Jordin Kare.
Scientists everywhere are experimenting with new ways of putting paid to mosquitoes, with weapons that disrupt the sense of sight, smell and heat mosquitoes use to find their prey.
- Thomas Baker at Pennsylvania State University is exploring whether malaria-carrying mosquitoes can be infected with a fungus that would act like a cold, suppressing the sense of smell that they use to find people as sources of blood.
- Szabolcs Marka, an astrophysicist and Columbia University specialist in black holes, has a grant to develop a ‘mosquito flashlight’. The device is designed to knock out the bugs’ eye-like sensors.
- Japanese researcher, Hiroyuki Matsuoka at Jichi Medical University, thinks it may be possible to turn mosquitoes that normally transmit disease into ‘flying syringes,’ so that when they bite humans they deliver vaccines.
There’s even a project to create a genetically modified, malaria-free mosquito to overtake the natural kind.
The brainchild of Luke Alphey, chief scientific officer of the British biotech company Oxitec, genetically modified (GM) male mosquitoes pass down a suicide gene that kills their own offspring. The plan is to release these GM mosquitoes into the wild in hopes of bringing down dangerous disease-carrying mosquito populations and preventing new outbreaks.
One sure way to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases including malaria is to get rid of the mosquito population. While eradicating all the mosquitoes in the world with lasers sounds like a great idea, it’s still a long way off. Fortunately other devices, including mosquito traps, are available right now.
Trap and Kill
There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes, 175 of them in the U.S. Each species is unique and each is attracted by different combinations of sensory stimuli; including light, shape, color, heat, movement and other by products of human activity. Mega-Catch™ mosquito traps incorporate revolutionary design features and patented technology to attract, trap and kill mosquitoes and other blood feeding insects (not beneficial insects like bees and butterflies). The trap will begin to catch immediately there is any mosquito activity in the vicinity, however it may take as much as 6-8 weeks of continuous use to reduce local populations to the point that breeding cycles are interrupted.
Best news? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to operate a Mega-Catch™ trap. They come fully assembled; simply install, connect to power, switch on, then watch them go to work on the little biters!
Integrated Mosquito Control
During mosquito season an integrated and multi-tiered approach to mosquito control is recommended, as it can help reduce dependence on sprays of toxic pesticides:
- Remove all sources of standing water around your home and yard to prevent mosquitoes breeding
- Wear an approved insect repellent i.e. DEET, Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
- Cover up - wear shoes and socks rather than sandals and loose, light-colored, long clothing to cover the arms and legs when outdoors
- Keep mosquitoes outdoors with well fitting insect screens on doors and windows
However, while sprays, repellents and citronella candles can be effective, they offer only temporary relief and a good mosquito trap is probably the most effective long-term DIY solution. The capture of only a few mosquitoes daily with a proven trapping system can have a substantial impact on current and future mosquito populations, as just one female mosquito is capable of laying up to 250 eggs at a time and as many as 3000 eggs during her lifetime (depending on species).