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September 5, 2018

6 amazing high-tech ways science could take care of the mosquito problem

by John_A

Whether it’s because of their nasty habit of carrying diseases like Zika and malaria or just their penchant for being vacation-spoiling jerks, there’s plenty of reasons to hate mosquitos. Fortunately, some of the biggest mosquito haters out there turn out to be some pretty darn smart scientists and engineers.

Thanks to them, there are a whole lot of smart anti-mosquito deterrents on the way that go far beyond the usual bug sprays, rolled-up newspapers, and other off-the-shelf solutions. Read on for six of the amazing technologies that could soon bring us a utopian world free from needle-nosed vampire insects.

Malaria-resistant mosquitoes

Malaria can be treated with the right drugs. Unfortunately, in some poorer parts of the developing world, getting the right drugs to people isn’t always easy. As a result, scientists from Johns Hopkins University have investigated a way to make mosquitos — as opposed to people — resistant to the malaria parasite.

Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, they have engineered malaria-resistant mosquitos by deleting a gene which helps malaria survive in the mosquito’s gut. In preliminary trials, the researchers have demonstrated that the malaria parasite is unable to survive long enough to mature to the point that it becomes dangerous to humans.

Photonic fence

Aside from beaming them straight to the Delta Quadrant, it’s hard to think of a more Star Trek-sounding solution to the mosquito problem than Nathan Myhrvold’s “photonic fence.” Described in a 2010 TED talk, the former Microsoft CTO suggested one way to deal with bloodsucking insects would be by shooting them down with deadly lasers.

His system locks onto mosquitos by detecting the sound of their wings flapping, and then zaps them in the air with a low-power laser — thereby killing them or severely disabling them. These devices could be erected like a fence around a settlement, and would theoretically kill around 99 percent of mosquitos who attempt to break the barrier.

Nearly a decade after the talk, we’re still not seeing photonic fences on the regular, although the technology has reportedly been licensed out to interested parties — and even the U.S. Commerce Department has shown some enthusiasm.

There’s an app for that

James Gathany / PHIL

Researchers from the University of Oxford are developing an app which uses machine learning to identify the acoustic signature of different mosquito species. This app can accurately identify the Anopheles species of mosquito — a.k.a. the one that’s responsible for spreading malaria — with around 72 percent accuracy.

To help expand the project, the team is now gathering more high-quality sound recordings that will allow the app to accurately identify all 3,600 different mosquito species. While this solution doesn’t eliminate disease-carrying mosquitoes, giving our smartphones the ability to quickly determine whether or not a mosquito is a potential disease carrier could be profoundly useful.

Drone dumping

If your goal is to get rid of mosquito-carried viruses, could the answer be… more mosquitoes? That’s the unorthodox approach being pioneered by the company WeRobotics, which plans to breed sterile mosquitoes in captivity, transport them in large numbers via drone, and then dump them in an area where they will massively outnumber (and thus outbreed) the quantity of wild males.

The hope is that this could reduce local mosquito populations by up to 90 percent.

Thunderstorm-simulating wearables

Mosquitoes may be capable of transmitting deadly viruses, but they’re still tiny, delicate insects. That means they don’t exactly love being out in storms, and feel compelled to temporarily quit the blood-drinking to seek shelter.

Taking advantage of this evolutionary quirk, the makers of the Nopixgo wristband have developed a wearable device which emits weak electromagnetic signals that convince mosquitoes that a storm is on the way.

“This is a revolutionary new way to approach mosquito bites,” Johan Niklasson, chief business development officer at NopixGlobal, told Digital Trends. “In a way, the mosquitoes’ own genetics is used against them; something they cannot adapt to and avoid. It goes deeper than just repelling with bad smells or irritating sounds. No one has ever tried this before, and the technology has not existed to make this possible until just recently.”

Genetically-engineered killer mosquitoes

When it comes to governmental missteps, releasing a bunch of genetically-engineered killer mosquitoes should probably rank fairly high. Except that, as it turns out, it might be a smart move. Developed by the Kentucky-based biotech company MosquitoMate, the project uses male mosquitoes (which are the non-biting ones) as vehicles for carrying a potent mosquito insecticide.

When the genetically-engineered mosquitoes mate with females, the resulting eggs don’t hatch. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially signed off on the plan last year, and numerous field tests have already been carried out. Watch this space!

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Scientists may soon be able to treat autism with CRISPR gene editing
  • Future pain-free microneedles could be inspired by mosquitos
  • New study suggests CRISPR gene editing might have unforeseen side effects

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