Years of popular science broadcasting (not to mention a few science fiction stories) have inculcated the idea that eradicating any one creature – no matter how undesirable and nasty – from its native ecosystem is to invite the collapse thereof. But that may not necessarily be a universal truth – it turns out that we might be able to wipe out mosquitoes (or at least the human-biting disease vector species thereof) with little risk [via Michael Anissimov]. Might.
… in many cases, scientists acknowledge that the ecological scar left by a missing mosquito would heal quickly as the niche was filled by other organisms. Life would continue as before — or even better. When it comes to the major disease vectors, “it’s difficult to see what the downside would be to removal, except for collateral damage”, says insect ecologist Steven Juliano, of Illinois State University in Normal. A world without mosquitoes would be “more secure for us”, says medical entomologist Carlos Brisola Marcondes from the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil. “The elimination of Anopheles would be very significant for mankind.”
Collateral damage, eh? Poor choice of words, perhaps, given recent events. Still, wiping out some mosquitoes could not only deep-six malaria and dengue (still huge killers in developing nations), but allow the colonisation of huge tracts of land that mosquitoes have made impenetrable, such as the Arctic tundra. But those are exactly the areas where the lack of mosquitoes would have the strongest effect on the ecosystem… so it’s not a decision I’d want to be responsible for, myself.
But one thing’s for sure: if we’re going to kill mosquitoes, we should use frickin’ LASERS.
Malaria remains one of the great unsolved health problems of the developing world, with the disease stubbornly resisting all attempts at eradication. So why not focus on the vector instead: the blood-hungry mosquitoes that spread malaria around? And why not use an idea straight from the science fictional supervillain-hideout playbook: a photonic fence made of devices that detect mosquitoes by the frequency of their wing oscillations, and then blasts them with lasers? [via Hack A Day]
Why not indeed – Bill Gates obviously likes the angle, as he’s funding Intellectual Ventures Lab’s research efforts (though some of that will presumably be supporting the company’s other idea, namely a way of zapping the malaria parasite in situ within the human body, scrambling its DNA without harming its host). Observe the destruction of a much-hated pest in close-up high-def slo-mo video:
Shazam! (Compare and contrast with the (as yet) non-lethal anti-papparazzi defence screens found on the yachts of shady billionaires…)
Think what you like of his software empire, Ol’ Bill sure likes investing in potentially worldchanging ideas; he’s currently looking into throwing his weight behind a new design for small-scale nuclear reactors, suitable for use in cities or low-demand nations [via SlashDot]. But even that pales beside the blue-sky glory [also via SlashDot] of a fusion-fission hybrid that will safely burn up existing nuclear waste by bombarding it with neutrons…