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By 1951, the US had eradicated malaria stateside with the help of a few smart doctors and a healthy smattering of good, old-fashioned DDT. But today, many parts of the world are still fighting vigorously against a disease that kills nearly a million people every year—most of them children in Africa—and the mosquito species that carries it. The weapons at their disposal include nets, a sticky insecticide sprayed onto the interior walls of homes, and even lasers.
This week, scientists in the UK might have hit on another, surprisingly simple eradication technique: reduce the size of the mosquito population. I know what you're thinking: "Well, obviously." But the new research suggests that, rather than trying to kill mosquitoes themselves, we should prevent them from ever coming into being in the first place. To do that, the scientists injected a batch of mosquito eggs with a compound that turned off the gene behind sperm production; when males were hatched, they produced no sperm. No sperm, no larvae, fewer mosquitoes. The added bonus is that female mosquitoes typically mate only once in their lives, and the study found that the absence of sperm did not seem to change that behavior.
"Targeting fertility is a good way to proceed and it's a good alternative to what's already there," study co-author Flaminia Catteruccia of Imperial College London said.