Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Infecting mosquitoes (so they can't infect us!)

There are plenty of reasons to dislike mosquitoes. Not only do they bite us and suck our blood, but they also carry diseases! When they bite into a larger creature (like us), they often transmit the disease right then and there. So in many cases around the world, people can contract deadly viruses from just a tiny mosquito bite.

For that reason, we take many steps to control the populations of these disease-carrying pests. Spraying insecticide often helps, but now researchers say they have found a new way to control mosquito populations. This time, it's with another organism.

Conor McMeniman and a group of researchers have been studying the effects of a tiny parasite known as Wolbachia on mosquito populations, and their findings may lead to another way to control mosquitoes and decrease the transmission of disease around the world.

These researchers have observed that mosquitoes infected by the Wolbachia parasite live about half as long as normal, healthy mosquitoes. They infected a particular population of mosquitoes that is known to transmit the dengue virus to humans, and found that the mosquitoes lived shorter, unproductive lives after they were infected with Wolbachia.

Since the dengue virus, and other viruses like it, needs a couple weeks to incubate inside the mosquito before they can be caught by humans, these researchers say that shortening the lives of the mosquitoes will allow fewer of them to harbor the virus long enough to pass it on to humans.

The researchers even say that their technique could be adapted for other animal and plant pests in the future not just for mosquitoes.