Intellectual Ventures Laboratory is developing an artificially manufactured mosquito food to help scientists and health programs raise mosquitoes effectively. A good synthetic diet would be easily transported, storable until needed, safe to handle, of consistent quality and free of regulatory and social objections. This invention will allow researchers at the forefront of vector control technology to focus on developing and delivering mosquito-based disease interventions.
Developing a successful mosquito food requires research into understanding mosquito metabolism, egg production, the thousands of nutrients and vitamins present in blood, and even what tastes good to a mosquito. Testing every new recipe requires growing, feeding, and monitoring generations of mosquito swarms to be confident that the effects of the food are understood.
The Artificial Diet project at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory is well on its way to addressing the challenges of making this new mosquito food. We hope our new mosquito diet will soon enable the efficient rearing of mosquitoes, and will help reduce the threat of mosquito-borne diseases.
Testing every new recipe requires growing, feeding, and monitoring generations of mosquito swarms to be confident that the effects of the food are understood.
While menacing bears, ferocious lions, and deadly sharks are more likely to populate our nightmares, the deadliest animal in the world is the tiny mosquito. Mosquitos earned this distinction by spreading malaria, which killed 627,000 people in 2012 alone. Mosquitoes transmit many other dreadful diseases as well, including dengue fever, West Nile virus, and yellow fever.
Mosquitoes are the critical vector for transmission of these diseases, so many interventions aim to decrease mosquito populations or limit mosquito-to-human interaction. Common examples include draining mosquito breeding habitats, distributing bed nets, and spraying insecticides.
Surprisingly, some control measures actually release additional mosquitoes into disease-stricken areas. The key to these approaches is that the released mosquitoes have been modified. Often, the released mosquitoes are altered males (only female mosquitoes bite) that mate with wild females, but produce unviable offspring. The result is that far fewer mosquitoes grow into adults in subsequent generations, and over time the cycle of infected human to mosquito to human transmission could be broken.
An even more surprising approach is to make and release mosquitoes that are resistant to pathogens. These mosquitoes still bite, but are much less likely to spread disease. The trait also gives the mosquitoes a reproductive advantage, suggesting that a relatively small release of these mosquitoes could result in the trait spreading through the wild population and remaining indefinitely.
In order to release mosquitoes for any of these strategies, you obviously have to raise mosquitoes…a LOT of them. Rearing mosquitoes in an insectary is already challenging: not only do mosquitoes require specific environmental controls, but female mosquitoes must also consume fresh blood to procreate. Protein-rich blood meals provide the mothers with the nutrients needed to develop viable eggs.
Scientists have tried a lot of different ways to feed blood to mosquitoes, but no approach is entirely satisfactory. A common approach is to enlist human volunteers to sit in a room full of mosquitoes. Obviously, this is unpleasant, and it also carries the risk of transmitting dangerous diseases if some enlisted volunteer happens to be infected. Other approaches include feeding mosquitoes on animals or on donated blood, but all of these techniques have their own problems, ranging from regulatory and religious objections to technical issues with screening, storing and processing blood. What this means is that in remote and resource-limited settings there may be no good way to raise and feed mosquitoes for use in disease intervention.
Our 200 square foot Insectary houses species from both the Aedes and Anopheles mosquito genera.
IV Lab is developing new malaria diagnostic techniques in support of elimination and eventual eradication of malaria.
The Biology and Chemistry Lab combines a pair of active wet laboratories with experienced biologists and chemists.
IV Lab is developing novel optical detection methods for automated identification of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Tests in our Environmental Chambers are designed to collect data in conditions beyond what we expect in the field.
One potential use of the Photonic Fence is to create a virtual fence that detects insects as they cross its plane.