Saturday, 27 April 2019

Research: Mosquitoes

(getty images)
There is no doubt that mosquitoes are a serious threat to mankind. Their bite carries not only malaria but a host of other diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, West Nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, Zika virus and other arboviruses. Mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal: over 700,000 each year, many of them children.

The book A Brief History of the Future suggests that in the next 50 years millions of infertile male mosquitoes would be released to reduce the population, and therefore drastically reduce the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.

In addition, by replacing the disease-causing organisms injected by their bites with antivirals, mosquitoes can be used to actually immunise the people they bite against an array of diseases. Thus turning them from killers into life-savers.

It's a great idea, but can it become a reality?

Gene map
The ability to map genes is already being used in the fight against mosquitoes. An article on the Wired Health website reports scientists are striving to modify mosquito genes to make the females infertile. They consider that enough mutated mosquitoes can be produced that they can be released all over Africa in 15 years, rapidly making them extinct.

On the other hand, some scientists are going even further. The mosquito has complex mouth parts to enable it to penetrate the skin, prevent the blood clotting, and drink the blood. Yet most people don’t even know they’ve been bitten until the itching starts.

No one likes having injections, so what if we could make needles less painful? A BBC podcast reports that scientists have studied the mouth parts and created a needle to mimic them. The needle is made of silicon and is very tiny. Like the mosquito, it has many parts and also vibrates to make insertion easier.

By adding a tiny sack to the mechanism, blood can be collected and analysed immediately or taken to a lab. This could also be used to inject into the skin. Couple this with a cholesterol sensor for patients at risk of heart problems, or insulin sensor for diabetes, and the small apparatus could be worn permanently to monitor and correct as needed.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

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