Entomologists, biologists and other researchers have long been working to develop methods of reliable mosquito control, but since the Zika scare hit the United States during 2015 and 2016, this sort of research has expanded tremendously in scope. Non-native mosquito species are becoming permanent inhabitants of certain ecosystems in the US where they never would have been expected to survive in the past. For example, the west Nile virus used to be unheard of in the southwest US, but now, invasive mosquitoes in the region have made the virus a permanent part of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. In the northeast US, residents have been known to contract the west Nile virus on occasion, but now the formerly rare mosquito-borne disease in the region, eastern equine encephalitis, is considered a major threat to most residents of Massachusetts. Before 2014, EEE was not considered a significant public health threat in the northeast. In response to the growing rate of mosquito-borne disease cases all over the country, many new and clever methods of mosquito control have been introduced. One recently developed method of mosquito control involves the use of a spider venom that grows from fungus.
American and African researchers have put their heads together to kill-off diseased mosquitoes by using a species of fungus to grow a form of venom that is produced by an Australian spider species. This fungal species, Metarhizium pinghaense, is already effective at killing mosquitoes on its own, but researchers have genetically engineered the fungus to produce a toxin found in the venom of the very dangerous Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider species. The Environmental Protection Agency has already approved of this fungal-venom’s use as an insecticide, and officials with the agency have confirmed that this new mosquito control method is only dangerous to insects. This control method sees mosquitoes make contact with baits containing the fungus. The fungus then germinates on a mosquito’s exterior body before it makes contact with the bloodstream. Once the fungus reaches the bloodstream, the deadly toxin is activated, resulting in death. This method has proven to be a success, as an early test saw an entire mosquito population wiped out within a 45 day period.
Have you heard about the public health threat posed by EEE-carrying mosquitoes in Massachusetts?