In a case of Star Wars meets ER, scientists are developing a laser that actually targets and kills mosquitoes that spread the deadly disease, malaria. The laser, which detects the mosquitoes by the specific frequency of its wings, has the potential to kill millions of the insects on the spot, or as one of its developers said, “toast millions of mosquitoes in a few minutes.” With that sort of lethal efficiency, the weapon has immeasurable potential in the fight against mosquito born diseases.
Malaria, in particular, is a preventable and treatable illness caused by transmission of a protozoan parasite (of the species Plasmodium ) between humans by way of mosquitoes. Though it is largely absent in the United States, approximately half of the planet is at risk for the disease. With upwards of 350-500 million cases each year, killing an estimated 3-5 million people, it is one of the most important infectious disease and public health problems in the world. Many of its victims are women and children in sub-Saharan Africa, and the World Heath Organization has determined that malaria kills a child every thirty seconds.
The disease is contracted when an infected mosquito bites a person and transmits the parasite, which resides in the mosquitoes salivary glands, into the person’s blood. Once in the blood, the disease starts to develop and symptoms, which include fever, headache, chills and vomiting, begin to appear in 10 to 15 days. Left untreated, the disease can be fatal.
And though the disease is curable, the drugs can be expensive and beyond the reach of most people in developing countries. Furthermore, there is the growing problem of drug resistance, whereby the parasite evolves to survive treatment.
With this in mind, prevention becomes the key. To date, the most common and effective ways to prevent the transmission of malaria was by getting rid of the mosquitoes. This was best accomplished by use of nets and pesticides such as DDT. And now, perhaps, with the use of high-tech lasers.
According to the people involved in the project, the laser would present no risks to the surrounding environment, nor would it hurt other harmless insects in the area. One would assume that it would have no harmful effects on people, as well.
The exact time frame for the laser has not been disclosed, and I think it would be fair to assume that it is still in the development stage. Even still, it is interesting to think that an effective way to help curb human suffering might be created by the some of the same scientists who previously tried to develop the Star Wars anti-missile system that made headlines during the Cold War.
Except that now they’re turning their attention to “weapons of mosquito destruction,” rather than “weapons of mass destruction.”