Manitoba researcher has a plan to make mosquitoes drop like flies
Published Thursday, March 26, 2015 8:05PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 26, 2015 8:39PM EDT
Steve Whyard wants to hit mosquitoes in the gonads until they no longer exist.
The University of Manitoba researcher is hatching a plan to control the population of the needle-nosed disease distributors by chemically sterilizing a batch of males and releasing them into the wild.
If all goes according to plan, the pesky vectors’ population will plummet to manageable levels after a few unsuccessful mating seasons, leaving Canadians free to enjoy summers without the stink of bug spray.
"What we're doing is we're treating the mosquitos as larvae,” Whyard says. “So we're putting something in the water while they're grazing, and they're feeding on this compound that will actually knock out their fertility."
In Canada, the insects don’t usually transmit anything worse than an itchy bump and annoying buzz. But mosquitoes are often cited as the deadliest animals on Earth due to their spreading of diseases like malaria, which kills over 600,000 people per year.
Other mosquito-facilitated ailments include dengue fever, yellow fever, and the West Nile Virus – something Winnipeger Chris Richter contracted eight years ago.
"It was pretty bad. I was off work for 17 months," Richter says. "I would be exhausted walking from the bedroom to the kitchen."
Whyard’s tactics aren’t completely new. Last year, Brazil became the first country in the world to approve the release of genetically modified mosquitoes designed to produce offspring that would die before reaching maturity.
Whyard’s approach, though, doesn’t involve genetic modification. He treats the insects in a lab with a substance that specifically targets mosquitoes. This approach, he says, can be ramped up to large-scale production.
“You can do the sterile insect technique in a lab or a large breeding facility, where you can breed millions of mosquitos in containment."
Millions of mosquitoes which will slowly muscle out the fertile ones, causing the population to crash.
"You're not seeing an instant kill,” he says. "You're going to have to wait to see that next generation being impacted."
The one thing holding Whyard back is a large injection of cash -- about $200,000 per year, he says, would be enough to get his program up and running.
The City of Winnipeg -- a place with a $10 million per year mosquito control budget -- says they’re interested in any new mosquito research, and will be monitoring Whyard’s progress.