UK research project shows potential to eliminate mosquitoes without insecticides

There is perhaps nothing more annoying than mosquitoes in the summer with their buzzing and biting. Aside from being a nuisance, the insects can also be disease carriers, capable of infecting humans as well as animals.

With that said, methods to rid our backyards of the pesky creatures have come and gone, including the extensive use of chemicals in various forms.

After the hot, dry summer experienced across the country promoted the spread of West Nile Virus in many states, intense sprayings took place in many areas — sometimes even by aerial dispersal — to get rid of the pest. But the use of such insecticides comes with its own concerns.

Research at the University of Kentucky is examining the possibility of ridding certain mosquitoes without the use of any chemicals.

Stephen Dobson, professor of medical and veterinary entomology, said the project essentially renders mosquitoes sterile by infecting them with a bacterium that would cause that sterilization.

“I wouldn’t call it a replacement. I think there are situations where insecticides are going to be the best idea, but we want to provide some non-insecticidal tools for controlling mosquitoes and the diseases they carry,” he said.

The idea of controlling insects with biological agents is not new, and this research, developed at UK and funded through the National Institutes of Health and a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been something Dobson has worked on since coming to the university in 1998. He said the institute has made an incredible investment in equipment that has allowed this research to be conducted. The eventual goal is to use this technology against multiple species of mosquitoes.

“There are lots of different types of mosquitoes in your backyard. Some are active at night, some are active during the daytime, and ultimately we would like to target most if not all of those,” Dobson said. “But right now, we’re focusing on a single mosquito species called the Asian Tiger mosquito.”

That particular insect is on the list of the most important invasive species in the United States, having been introduced here in 1985 from Southeast Asia. It is known for its aggressive human-biting behavior and has the ability to carry many viruses including West Nile, according to information from the USDA.

“It is in every county in Kentucky, and it’s really spreading on a continental scale,” said Dobson. “It carries things that affect human health as well as animal health.”

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