Friday, June 10, 2005

Fungus kills mosquitoes

This is pretty exciting:
In a finding that may open promising new ways to attack malaria, scientists are reporting today that two fungi that are harmless to humans and the environment can be used to kill mosquitoes.

The fungi are already licensed in Western countries to control aphids, termites and other pests, according to two studies in the journal Science. One of the researchers, Dr. Matt B. Thomas, a biologist at Imperial College in London, estimated that a "deliverable product" could be ready in three to five years, if he could get money for further research.

Malaria kills more than one million people a year, mostly children under 5 and pregnant women, especially in Africa. Despite the advent of new drugs and better mosquito nets, some specialists say deaths may be increasing, largely because of bureaucratic delays among donors and breakdowns in African public health systems.

Moreover, mosquitoes eventually develop resistance to every chemical pesticide used on them, including DDT. No resistance to fatal fungi has been reported among agricultural pests, Dr. Thomas said.
The fungus wouldn't be sprayed indiscriminately, but rather on bednets and indoor walls. This works because, in Africa at least, mosquitoes typically bite people inside while they're sleeping, and they have to rest for at least 6 hours indoors after a blood meal before they go outside to lay eggs - so while they're resting, they get exposed to this toxic fungus and get weakened, and eventually die after a couple weeks. So even if this fungus turns out to have some unexpected bad effects (which I'm sure it will), they will be limited by the limited spraying. (No vast spraying of farms with DDT here!)

And even if there were some toxic effects on either humans or some ecologically important insect - I think that price is worth paying (to a certain extent, of course, but a significantly non-zero extent) if we can significantly reduce the burden of malaria. Remember, it's not just that poverty causes disease - it's also that disease causes poverty.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nature has its own way of keeping things in check. The question of human intervention, however, leaves us in dilemma. Either we stem the deaths by reducing the diseases, and thereby increase the human strain on those ecosystems, or we leave things be as they are. Seeing as the latter choice is NOT an option for a compassionate conscience, we will be left to solve the unintended consequences of our actions.

Kol Tuv 

Posted by SLAronovitz

6/17/2005 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand....

if we are what we eat...and mosquitoes are attracted to us by scent..then why hasn't anyone(scientists particuarly) done any research on a slow release pill that would repell the mosquito? 

Posted by wade wayde

7/06/2005 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Wade, that might be possible, but DEET works pretty well as it is, so it's not clear to me that a pill is really necessary...

7/21/2005 05:36:00 PM  
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