A while back we had a brief look at the possibility of simply excising mosquitoes from the ecosystems in which they are most problematic, but now an Australian scientist is trying a different tack in order to curtail the spreading range of the dengue fever virus: mosquitoes infected with a particular bacterium are less able to host the dengue virus and live only half as long, so introducing them into dengue zones should see them rapidly out-compete the dengue carriers. Sounds a lot less drastic than trying for wholesale eradication of a species…
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…
Dengue fever is one of the most common insect-borne viral infections known to medical science, and people in areas where it is prevalent are advised to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites by whatever means necessary, in parallel with programs aimed at reducing the number of mosquitoes. [image by MiikaS]
However, new research suggests that reducing the number of mosquitos may actually increase the likelihood of people contracting fatal cases of dengue, because more regular infections help to develop a strong immune response to the various serotypes of the infection:
“… if the number of mosquitoes is reduced, people are infected less frequently and so are less likely to catch another serotype during this crucial window. This led the team to the counter-intuitive idea that fewer mosquitoes could result in more cases of DHF.”
Humans have evolved complex responses to mosquito-borne illnesses, but it appears that they can be a double-edged sword. A genetic variation prevalent in people of African descent that confers some protection against malaria has been shown to make them more susceptible to HIV, the precursor to AIDS, at the same time as prolonging their survival of the immune system syndrome.
There’s a new hope on the horizon, though, as researchers at the University of Texas think they may have found the Achilles heel of the HIV virus:
“They have identified antibodies that, instead of passively binding to the target molecule, are able to fragment it and destroy its function. Their recent work indicates that naturally occurring catalytic antibodies, particularly those of the IgA subtype, may be useful in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection… “
And the even mosquitoes have their uses – a new form of “painless” hypodermic needle has been designed using the proboscis of the blood-sucking insects as its inspiration.
Living in Wisconsin, the record rainfalls over the past month have become something of a concern. The biggest water-related concern Southeast Wisconsin – Milwaukee in specific – has had in the last 20 years is the cryptosporidium scare we had in 1993. Now, though, with nearly an entire summer’s worth of rain in just less than a week, we’re in trouble. Why? Mosquitoes. [picture thanks to basykes].
The biggest hazard with mosquitoes in Wisconsin in the West Nile Virus. With large – and I’m talking football-field-sized – ponds all over the area, it’s prime breeding grounds for large quantities of mosquitoes that carry the virus. The National Health Administration and the CDC have warned of a possible outbreak. It’s one of those concerns that a people don’t really think about, and it carries potentially lethal outcomes.
Many people are rebuilding after the devastating floods, and this will only be an additional burden. It’s one of those times when it’s nice to be advanced enough in medicine to deal with such large-scale problems.