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A Self-Destructive Mosquito Bite January 18, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Animals, Diseases, Human Body, Insects, Think About It.
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A mosquito’s bite usually has a characteristic sting, but the pain subsides and at worst, most of us experience a bit of swelling, itching and redness for a few days. For some people, however, a mosquito’s bite can bring with it some lasting discomfort – namely when the mosquito is carrying a disease such as malaria, yellow fever or West Nile virus – among others. The good news is that researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson may soon have a way to make the mosquito’s bite deadly to itself!

Figuring It Out

Mosquito Researchers recently discovered something very peculiar. When a mosquito species known as Aedes aegypti gorges on human blood, it excretes a substance called nitrogen immediately afterwards. The nitrogen is toxic to the mosquitoes and must be released following its meal. What happens if the mosquito doesn’t excrete the nitrogen? Bam! Self-destruction! If the mosquitoes don’t excrete the nitrogen, they will not lay eggs and will most likely become ill and die.

Taking Advantage Of Nature

By taking into account this complicated metabolic pathway of the mosquito, researchers are now looking for a molecule that won’t harm humans but will basically muck up the metabolic pathways of mosquitoes, which means they’ll retain their nitrogen and effectively self-destruct. Once the researchers have figured out the mechanics of the molecule, they can then develop an insecticide and spray it in the areas where mosquitoes like to play – around the water, for example.

According to the lead researcher Roger Miesfeld:

Our goal is to turn the female mosquito’s blood meal into the last meal she ever eats. The whole community would essentially become one big mosquito trap. It would be a group effort that in the long run could have a huge impact. This would be one more weapon in our arsenal against diseases that kill millions of people a year.

Another potential application would be an oral insecticide. So, if you lived in an area where a disease such as malaria is prevalent, you could take a pill that would cause the mosquito to ingest the insecticide along with your blood. This wouldn’t prevent you from actually getting the disease but it would kill the mosquito after it bites, which means the spread of disease could be slowed.

I find it easy to forget just how potentially dangerous a mosquito’s bite can be, mostly because I am either living in North America or the United Kingdom, where the risk of disease from mosquitoes is fairly small. Yet, for many people, diseases passed through mosquitoes are a frightening reality. Hopefully, this new research can help to reduce the mosquito population and prevent both the initial sting and the spread of diseases.

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