University of Texas researchers developing algae to fight mosquitoes

(KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While wiping out mosquitoes completely is likely impossible, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are using a tool from nature to try and control their populations.

They’re targeting the larvae.

“If you’re out killing adults, which is what most mosquito control is, that’s really kind of late in the game, they are already out biting people,” said Dr. David Herrin, professor of molecular bioscience. “If you kill larvae, then you don’t let them become adults that can bite.”

The researchers are combining algae with mosquito-killing bacteria. When the larvae eats the algae, it rips their gut apart, killing them within 24 to 48 hours.

Dr. Herrin says they’re stepping into uncharted territory. While the mosquito-killing bacteria they’re utilizing is also in some pesticides, it hasn’t been used in a living organism that can grow in habitats.

“This was something we were interested in for while but the technology wasn’t really available until, I would say the last five or six years to do it,” said Dr. Herrin. “To actually make algae that could control mosquito larvae.”

The algae only targets mosquito larvae and researchers believe it could bring mosquito populations down 80 to 90 percent in areas used, restricting disease transmission.

Dr. Herrin says it’s less toxic for people compared to existing pesticides, and shouldn’t change the water quality.

He says they would first recruit the help of mosquito control districts to distribute the algae, and then hope to eventually sell it to homeowners.

“I think it would be great if they appeared eventually in stores, in little vials maybe that people could buy, dump them in their fountains, ditches or wherever they have water around.”

Herrin says government officials are not sure how far Zika could spread in the United States because they have never tried to count the species of mosquito carrying it. The Centers for Disease Control is looking for researchers to help them start counting.

Unfortunately the algae won’t be ready for distribution this year. The team is currently looking for funding to move forward to their next phase of research.

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