Apr 1, 2014
In our podcast KILL ‘EM ALL we looked at a new and totally mind-blowing way to fight against mosquito-borne diseases by genetically modifying them to go into the wild and work (like secret assassins) to kill future generations. This, I think you’ll agree, is one of the more dramatic strategies out there. However, it is not the only one worthy of our time and contemplation.
Here is short list of my favorite alternative methods to ending the mosquito madness:
THE UN MODEL
The brilliant Tony James at the University of California Irvine says that, instead of seeing them as our enemies, we should join forces with the mosquito to fight together (hand and wing) against the real enemies: the parasites and bacteria that get both us and the mosquito sick.
Tony’s team has created a genetically engineered mosquito (a “GEM”, as he calls them) that has such a robust immune system, that the plasmodium parasite (which spreads malaria) dies inside of the mosquito before it ever spreads to humans. In the world his research would like to usher in, we would still have a ton of mosquitoes buzzing around all over the globe – but they would all be super mosquitoes. In this peace deal, the mosquito would be free to bite and buzz and annoy us for eternity, but never again kill us in the process.
THE FUNKY FUNGUS MODEL
Before I explain how this model works, here’s a few things you need to know:
For a mosquito to get you sick with malaria, it must first bite someone who is already sick. Then the malaria parasite must spend about 6 to 8 days inside the mosquito (doing its thing). And then the mosquito must bite you, allowing the now-contagious-parasite to rush through the skeeter’s needle-mouth and into your bloodstream. The thing is, the average mosquito only lives about 8 or 9 days! So every time anyone gets malaria, that mosquito who gave it to them is living out its last precious hours of life.
So biologist Andrew Read and entomologist Matthew Thomas teamed up to harness the power of this special fungus by creating a way to spray it on walls and under floorboards and in puddles of water around your home. This fungus latches onto the mosquito and slowly start growing - so slowly that the mosquito can live a pretty normal life. It can mate, reproduce and buzz to its heart’s delight. But the whole time, the sneaky fungus is slowly spreading itself around the mosquito's vital organs. And eventually, it kills the mosquito before the parasite inside of it has had time to become contagious.
Essentially, the fungus robs the mosquito of the last day or two of its life and therefore stops the mosquito from taking any of our lives.
THE LONG GAME
Our final approach requires some stamina and it comes from the author and globetrotter Craig Childs:
I have a theory. If you kill more than 130 or so mosquitoes for every one that makes off with your blood, it is no longer feasible for the species to seek you as a host. Swatting only ten or fifteen will not be enough. You must kill them all. Do this for the rest of your life, never let down your guard. Teach your children, friends and neighbors to do it. Pass the word on, and after one hundred thousand years, about thirty thousand human generations, evolutionary adaptation should kick in and mosquitoes should stop biting humans. The numbers are tough – you will have to be vigilant.