Having spent time in Malaria-infested regions and seeing some of the suffering firsthand, I got a kick out of watching a crowd at TED squirm last year when Bill Gates released a little swarm of mosquitoes on his audience. It’s a huge deal, and it’s a good thing that Gates and big-name players such as Colin Powell, Queen Rania and others are raising awareness about just how globally devastating the bug-borne illness is. The disease kills more than a million people every year, mostly African children, and gaining traction in an environmentally acceptable way has remained elusive.
But here’s some good news from the front: Researchers at the University of Haifa have identified the “chemical identity” of compounds released by one of the malaria carrier’s aquatic predators. Mimicking this identity basically scares the shit out of mosquitoes. The big idea now is to introduce these natural chemicals where they breed, encouraging them to go do their business elsewhere – an often fatally time-consuming challenge in the short lifespan of Culiseta longiareolata (a.k.a. Pure Evil Creatures).
The team responsible for the breakthrough had previously shown that mosquitoes chemically sense at least one particular “predator of its progeny” – the backswimmer – and avoid places where these baby-eaters hang out. Now the team has identified the backswimmer’s actual chemical footprint (a combination of n-tricosane and n-heneicosane) that repels these mosquitoes from laying eggs. According to a university release, “Applying such synthetic compounds to mosquito breeding sites would not only result in much fewer mosquitoes in the immediate area but probably reduce mosquito populations overall.”
In the release, Team leader Professor Leon Blaustein explains that there are three primary ways to stop the bugs: The first is to hit “˜em where they breed, somehow keeping them from leaving the area in which they’re born. The second is to try to kill them once they’ve spread to residential areas – a difficult, expensive, and usually bad-chemical affair. The third and final option is to put it on you, the bitee (EcoSalon recently offered up some survival tips), and your we-all-know-how-well-they-work repellents. (Don’t you love slathering yourself with chemical acronyms?)
Aside from the chemical nature of these usually not-so-eco-friendly approaches, Blustein adds that mosquitoes often develop resistance to pesticides and that the group’s “new findings of chemical identification of predator-released egg-laying repellants can be a breakthrough in providing a natural, environmentally friendly and inexpensive option to the arsenal in the first line of defense.”