Mutant Mosquitoes

Biting Mosquito

Their whine may be irritating, but it is the bite of a mosquito which can prove deadly. Although all mosquitoes will bite humans and cause those horrible itchy wealds, not all mosquitoes carry disease. The Anopheles species of mosquito carries malaria. According to the WHO, in 2008 malaria caused nearly one million deaths, mostly among African children.

The mosquito Aedes aegypti is the single most important carrier of dengue, a viral disease that affects 50 to 100 million people in tropical regions every year. Usually the symptoms are mild, but around 1 in 20 people become seriously ill. There is no vaccine and no treatment, so the only way to combat the disease is to kill the mosquitoes that carry it.

Although there is evidence that mosquitoes are becoming resistant to pesticides, there is hope that one day diseases like malaria and dengue will be relegated to the medical archives along with live-threatening illnesses like scarlet fever and small pox. A report published today by New Scientist outlines the success scientists have achieved with mutating pests like mosquitoes and the Tsetse fly.

Mutating any species has always been controversial, but the so-called “sterile male technique” has been successfully employed for the past few decades with some degree of success. Large numbers of the male pest, such as a mosquito or a crop-destroying beetle, are sterilized then released back into the wild. The idea is that the males mate with the females, producing sterile eggs. Over a period of time the species is very much reduced and eventually becomes extinct. Some pest species like the Tsetse fly only mate once, making it a viable model for the sterile male technique.

The sterile male technique is currently being used in Zanzibar in an effort to exterminate the Tsetse fly which causes sleeping sickness in humans and can devastate livestock.

Whilst it is possible to argue that most pests are just plain old insects in the wrong place, and have their home in the food chain (they fill the tummies of toads), I would counter that no place is the right place for mosquitoes. The tiny bloodsuckers reign at dusk with terror, ruining any chance of enjoying an evening outdoors, lest you could bear the constant slap-slap of a hand against flesh.

Whether we will ever be free of mosquitoes and the risk of malaria remains to be seen but with some simple measures you can deter mosquitoes or if you have commercial premises you may need mosquito control.

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