How would we get rid of every single mosquito?

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In this episode of the Flash Forward podcast we travel to a future where humans have decided to eradicate the most dangerous animal on the planet: mosquitos. How would we do it? Is it even possible? And what are the consequences?

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We talk to experts on mosquito ecology, public health, and a guy who’s trying to genetically engineer mosquitoes to eliminate themselves. We talk about everything from how hard it would be to exterminate mosquitoes, to which species we should target, to what the potential side effects might be. Listen for all that and more!

▹▹ Full show notes

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Why it's so hard to make a better mosquito repellent

James Gathany / Flickr

Since 2008 Leslie Vosshall, director of the Vosshall Laboratory at Rockefeller University, has been working on making a better mosquito repellent than DEET. In this Atlantic article by Ed Yong, she explains why it's so hard to keep the tiny vampires from sucking our blood.

“Narrowly focusing on a single sensory pathway to stop mosquitoes is doomed,” she says, because they track their prey with so many different cues. “It’s an incredibly smart strategy. From the mosquito’s point of view, there are a lot of unreliable signals in nature, so they integrate multiple pathways. They have a Plan B at every point.”

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Use this shocking gadget for mosquito bite relief

zap-it

This little gadget, called the Zap-It ($13 on Amazon), delivers a small electrical shock to a mosquito bite, making the itch stop. It uses a piezoelectric crystal to create the spark, so no batteries are needed. According to the UK's National Physical Laboratory, the shock (which in my experience is less painful than a static electricity zap) "acts on the skin of an insect bite victim to reduce excess production of histamine, and the associated redness and itching. Results from a clinical trial conducted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded that more than 90% of test subjects were itch-free within five minutes of using the Zap-It! product."

My family has been using a similar piezoelectric zapper for years to make mosquito bites stop itching. My daughters have also learned that you can zap your wrist to make your fingers twitch, so the gadget doubles as a toy.

They manufacturer recommends starting with five clicks on a mosquito bite, but we zap ourselves 20 times or more. As J.R. "Bob" Dobbs says, "'Too much' is always better than not enough." Read the rest

Why science needs silly-sounding research

Earlier this week, scientists announced that they'd found evidence suggesting malaria-carrying mosquitoes are more attracted to the smell of human flesh than healthy mosquitoes. This research — which, I'm sure you'll agree, has some important implications — grew out of research that could be deemed very silly. In fact, this new finding was built on IgNobel-winning research published back in 1996, which found that malaria mosquitoes are attracted to the smell of stinky cheese. Read the rest

The bug killing tool preferred by mosquito researchers

Meet The Executioner.

Earlier today, I got a tour of the mosquito breeding facility at North Carolina State University. Basically, it's a small room — about the size of my bathroom at home — where scientists breed and grow the mosquitoes they use in scientific research. The downside: Mosquito enclosures are somewhat less than foolproof. Which means the mosquito breeding facility has a significant number of loose mosquitoes. That's where The Executioner comes in. There were multiple Executioners in that one small room. Then entire time I was talking with the scientists, they were simultaneously swinging around these electrified tennis racquets to zap any mosquito that blundered into their personal space.

Personally, I consider this a hell of an endorsement for any bug killing tool. Read the rest

Genetically modified mosquitoes proposed for anti-dengue fight in Key West

British biotechnology company Oxitec Ltd is trying to convince the locals in Key West to use genetically modified mosquitoes in their fight to eradicate dengue fever in the area. What could possibly go wrong? Read the rest