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Scientists trick malaria-carrying mosquitoes into drinking toxic beet juice they think is blood

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A Swedish company says it’s perfected a new way to get rid of disease-carrying mosquitoes by tricking them into drinking poisoned juice.   

Researchers with the start-up Molecular Attraction isolated a molecule known as HMBPP, which is present in blood infected with the malaria parasite.

HMBPP releases a smell that attracts mosquitoes and stimulates them to drink more blood.    

‘It turns out that HMBPP can force mosquitoes to drink almost anything, as long as the pH is right,’ Molecular Attraction CEO Lech Ignatowicz told Fast Company

The researchers tempted mosquitoes with a potent combination of beet juice mixed with HMBPP and plant-based toxins.

The mosquitoes happily fed on the faux blood and all died shortly after.

‘The big advantage is that HMBPP doesn’t attract other insects or other species,’ Ignatowicz told the outlet. ‘So you can use it as a passive way of convincing mosquitoes to eat toxins.’

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HMBPP, a molecule present in blood infected with the malaria parasite, releases a smell that makes it more attractive to mosquitoes. Scientists in Sweden have been able to add HMBPP to a deadly mixture of beet juice and plant toxins, killing all the mosquitoes that drank it

HMBPP, a molecule present in blood infected with the malaria parasite, releases a smell that makes it more attractive to mosquitoes. Scientists in Sweden have been able to add HMBPP to a deadly mixture of beet juice and plant toxins, killing all the mosquitoes that drank it

Since HMBPP actually attracts mosquitoes, far less of it is needed than the more harmful pesticides that are sprayed over entire neighborhoods. 

‘Nowadays, the biggest problem in mosquito control lies in the task of attracting them to the traps,’ the company said in a statement on its website

‘This unique composition is attractive exclusively to the 5 Anopheles species of mosquitoes, which are the exclusive vectors of the malaria parasite.’ 

Other attractant products either need an electrical source or spread carbon dioxide, the company said, ‘which disrupts the surrounding biosphere.’

While Molecular Attraction is eager to market the bug-killer, it’s determined to make it ‘accessible and affordable,’ according to Ignatowicz, so that it can help vulnerable countries.   

The HMBPP molecule was added to tainted beets (pictured) but Molecular Attraction CEO Lech Ignatowicz said HMBPP 'can force mosquitoes to drink almost anything, as long as the pH is right'

The HMBPP molecule was added to tainted beets (pictured) but Molecular Attraction CEO Lech Ignatowicz said HMBPP ‘can force mosquitoes to drink almost anything, as long as the pH is right’

Ignatowicz told Fast Company the concoction isn’t intended to eradicate mosquitoes entirely.

‘We want to eliminate diseases they carry … and limit the amount of mosquitoes in proximity to people,’ ​​he said. ‘So we can create, let’s say, a mosquito-free zone around your house.

‘But we shouldn’t eliminate them completely from your state,’ he added.

The study was published in the journal Communications Biology on October 7, just one day after the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the world’s first malaria vaccine

The agency recommended widespread use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline for use in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high levels of malaria transmission, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of lives a year.   

Millions of people are infected by malaria every year and about 400,000 die, many of them children under age five

Millions of people are infected by malaria every year and about 400,000 die, many of them children under age five

Malaria is a serious disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects Anopheles mosquitoes, who in turn transmit the disease to humans when they bite them. 

Victims often develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, headaches, chills, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting.

Millions of people are infected every year and about 400,000 die, many of them children under age five.  

Plasmodium falciparum, the deadly parasite that causes malaria in humans, is believed to have been in existence for more than 50,000 years.

Because Molecular Attraction’s mixture specifically targets the Anopheles mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite, it’s not useful in combatting other mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika, West Nile Virus, dengue, Yellow Fever and Chagas. 

But epidemiologists have had success with other strategies: between 2017 and 2020, scientists in Java released millions of mosquitoes injected with Wolbachia, a bacterium that prevents them from transmitting the virus that causes dengue fever.

Scientists in Java injected millions of mosquitoes with Wolbachia, a bacterium that prevents them from transmitting the virus that causes dengue fever. Infection rates fell three-quarters in neighborhoods where the insects were released

Scientists in Java injected millions of mosquitoes with Wolbachia, a bacterium that prevents them from transmitting the virus that causes dengue fever. Infection rates fell three-quarters in neighborhoods where the insects were released

The team found that infections were 77 percent lower in treated neighborhoods, compared to areas not exposed to the infected insects.  

In the Florida Keys a collaboration between local government and British biotech firm Oxitec aims to reduce the numbers of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by altering their DNA.

The modified insects would carry a protein that ensures that, when they mate, any female offspring don’t survive.

With fewer females in each subsequent generation, the hope is the overall Aedes aegypti population would decline, along with the transmission rates of diseases they carry, like Zika and Yellow Fever. 



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