Research continues to target mosquitoes

If mosquitoes could read, they would know from two recent announcements that their way of life is threatened. Neither of the innovations is ready to go to scale, but both demonstrate the need for continuing research and new tools if malaria is eventually to be eliminated.

The attention grabber among these two tools is a laser gun that shoots down mosquitoes. At the annual TED Conference “Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold says his company, Intellectual Ventures, can assemble electronic parts from readily available devices — printers, digital cameras, projectors — to make ground-to-air lasers that can take out mosquitoes.”

According to the New York Times, “Mr. Myhrvold said the software detects the speed and size of the image before deciding whether to shoot. It would reject a butterfly or a human, for example, and more powerful laser blasts could be used for locusts. In regions afflicted by malaria, the lasers could be used to create protective fences around clinics, homes, or even agricultural fields as a substitute for pesticides.”

laser-kills-mosquito-sm.jpgA video shows the laser in action shearing off the wings of mosquitoes. SmartPlanet.com reports that, “Altogether, the device could cost as little as $50, depending on volume. For now, it’s merely a proof-of-concept device.”  In addition to bring down the price, the inventors must ensure a battery operated model is available in endemic rural communities.

A second innovation is “A new insecticide against malaria mosquitoes has proved safe and effective as an alternative to DDT in an experimental trial in Benin, West Africa.” The chemical is the long-lasting insecticide, chlorpyrifos-methyl. N’Geussan and colleagues found that this insecticide, “killed 95% of An. gambiae that entered the hut as compared to 31% with lambdacyhalothrin and 50% with DDT.”

The challenge with chlorpyrifos-methyl was that it did not have the repellent power of the other insecticides and therefore may allow resistance to develop faster.  Still, this compound might be used in combination with other insecticides for greater effect.

The important lesson to come out of the insecticide research is that, “The remarkable residual activity indicates that cost-effective alternatives to DDT are feasible through modern formulation technology.”

So while neither of these innovations is ready for prime time, they represent a much needed inquiry into multiple ways that malaria can be controlled.  A recurrent theme at last year’s 5th MIM Pan-African Malaria Conference was advocacy for continued and increased malaria research support.  This is the only way to guarantee appropriate and effective malaria control tools are available when needed.

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