First it was just swatting. Then poison. Then sterilizing males. Now it is grounding females. Is there anything people will not try in the war against mosquitoes?
The latest idea: Genetic engineering that results in wingless female mosquitoes.
It is the females that do the biting, but if they cannot fly they cannot zoom in on their victims. They would be expected to die quickly on the ground, researchers suggest in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The real goal is to prevent mosquitoes from spreading disease, and the researchers led by Luke Alphey of the University of Oxford in England are studying ways to reduce the spread of dengue fever, which mosquitoes carry.
The researchers, several of whom have commercial interests in the work through Oxitec Ltd., developed a method to genetically alter male mosquitoes, which then could mate with females. Their offspring would have wing changes that prevent the females from flying.
Males could still fly, but they do not bite.
"The technology is completely species specific, as the released males will mate only with females of the same species," Alphey said in a statement. "It's far more targeted and environmentally friendly than approaches dependent upon the use of chemical spray insecticides, which leave toxic residue."
Other efforts to block transmission of diseases such as malaria have involved releasing sterile male mosquitoes, which could breed with females, but no offspring result. Bed nets also are widely used, but the researchers said the dengue-spreading mosquitoes bite in daytime rather than at night.
While this research is aimed at dengue, Alphey and co-author Anthony A. James of the University of California, Irvine, said it could also be adapted to such diseases as malaria and West Nile fever.
The research was funded by the University of California and the National Institutes of Health.