Nearly half the world’s population lives in areas vulnerable to malaria which kills roughly 450,000 people every year. And while it’s tempting to spray heavily for the mosquitoes that spread the disease, the suckers have developed resistance to conventional insecticides – also believed to be toxic to humans and other animals.
Now, however, scientists have finally discovered a neurotoxin that only kills the offending mosquitoes. About 30 years ago, researchers identified a strain of bacteria that kills the insects. Since the bacteria’s method of attack was not understood, it couldn’t be replicated or used as an alternative to chemical insecticides – until now. The researchers started by creating a mutant strain of the bacteria that could not produce the toxin. By comparing the nontoxic strain to the one that kills the mosquitos, they found proteins in the bacteria that are key to producing the toxin.
The team has applied for a patent on this discovery and now hopes to find partners that will help them develop their bacteria-based mosquito insecticide.