LEXINGTON, Ky., June 22 -- A "nuisance" is probably one of the nicest things people call mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes have been called the deadliest animal on the planet, because of the diseases they spread. So why would researchers want to develop an artificial buffet for them? The answer is simple. That "buffet" may lead to fewer mosquitoes. Stephen Dobson, a University of Kentucky professor of medical and veterinary entomology, believes his mosquito food can do just that. Others believe there's promise too.
Dobson's research on developing artificial blood for mosquitoes has made him a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, in an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The artificial blood he developed will allow people in remote areas around the world to sustain colonies of mosquitoes, even in those areas with limited resources and difficult logistics.
"Multiple new approaches to control mosquito populations require the ability to rear mosquitoes," Dobson said. "The artificial blood technology will help us to better fight disease-transmitting mosquitoes in resource-limited areas."
In one approach patented by the University of Kentucky, mosquitoes are essentially sterilized by a naturally occurring bacterium, called Wolbachia. With an ability to rear large mosquito numbers, the approach can be used as an organic pesticide, to overwhelm and sterilize mosquito populations that transmit diseases like malaria, flilaria, dengue and yellow fever. Once sterilized, the mosquito population declines and can be eliminated.
Dobson has already had promising results using the artificial blood and mosquito sterilization technique to control populations of Asian tiger mosquitoes. Following its invasion of the U.S. in the mid-1980s, the tiger mosquito has become one of the most important biting mosquitoes in Kentucky, and it is a carrier of canine heartworm. Dobson has also tested the technique to control yellow fever mosquitoes. He will use the grant funds to test his artificial blood on more species of mosquitoes, including those known to carry human diseases like malaria.