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Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft great, is helping lead an ambitious new effort to kill mosquitoes with lasers, stopping the spread of malaria.  (Source: Warner Brothers)

Dr. Kare, a former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with Mr. Myhrvold's help, is directing a crack team of scientists in their efforts to kill mosquitos with lasers.  (Source: Wall Street Journal)

The lasers claim a casualty.  (Source: Wall Street Journal)
A new scheme has the scientific community buzzing with excitement

Mosquitoes are among the biggest spreaders of blood-borne diseases such as malaria.  Many Third World countries with poor medical care are in warm, relatively moist regions yielding lots of mosquitoes and little treatment for the illnesses they transmit -- a deadly combination.  Malaria alone kills one million people annually.

The solution is to kill the mosquitoes, but insecticides and repellants are typically toxic, expensive, and have the possibility of not working on "super strands" which become resistant to the chemicals.  Vaccines for mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria are safer, but still expensive and can only prevent certain diseases.  So researchers in Seattle have turned to the decades old Star Wars program for answers for today's mosquito problem. 

The Star Wars program aimed to shoot down nuclear missiles with lasers.  The new program aims at a much smaller target; it seeks to kill mosquitoes en masse with deadly laser pulses.  The researchers, led by Jordin Kare, an astrophysicist formerly with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, have created a laser that can "tag" mosquitoes with pulses of light from 100 feet away.  The current laser is non-lethal, but the next version will be a lethal one -- a veritable weapon of mass mosquito destruction (WMMD).

States Kare, "We'd be delighted if we destabilize the human-mosquito balance of power."

The mosquito laser was built of parts scrounged on eBay.  And it’s not the only mosquito killing superweapon.  With weighty donors like Bill Gates, the United Nations, the U.K. and non-profits such as Malaria No More pouring money into anti-mosquito research, many are creating new forms of death for these pests of the skies. 

Szabolcs Márka, a Columbia University researcher who usually specializes in black holes has turned his efforts on these little pests, creating a flashlight that blinds them.  He says of mosquito researchers and the explosion of new funding, "You can say we are very lucky -- the right place at the right time."

A myriad of methods including microwaves, rancid odors, poisoned blood and other weapons that disrupt the sense of sight, smell and heat are being tested in labs worldwide.  Some are genetically engineering bacteria to kill all mosquitoes, others are genetically engineering superior mosquitoes which are malaria resistant, which will overtake and naturally deselect their malaria-bearing brethren.

One creative Japanese researcher even wants to make mosquitoes into "flying syringes" carrying vaccines to the general public.  However, the one scheme that perhaps receives the most attention is the mosquito laser, dreamed up first by Lowell Wood.  Mr. Wood worked closely with Edward Teller, who helped develop the first hydrogen bomb and later dreamed up the Star Wars scheme.  While the Star Wars program has yet to become a basis of our national defense, Mr. Wood believes a similar scheme can become the basis of our mosquito defense.

Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft Corp. executive and owner of Intellectual Ventures LLC, has helped fund the effort with help from former boss Bill Gates.  Dr. Wood has assembled a team which includes Dr. Kare, another Star Wars scientist, an entomologist with a Ph.D in mosquito behavior, and other experts. 

Dr. Kare describes, "We like to think back then we made some contribution to the ending of the Cold War" with the Star Wars program.  Now we're just trying to make a dent in a war that's actually gone on a lot longer and claimed a lot more lives."

Deployment schemes still have to be worked out -- laser defense perimeters surrounding villages are one possibility, while laser-equipped aerial drones are another.  The power of the lasers also needs tweaking to be strong enough to kill mosquitoes, but weak enough to not kill desirable insects like endangered butterflies.  States Mr. Myhrvold, "You could kill billions of mosquitoes a night, and you could do so without harming butterflies."

The current implementation uses a Dell computer as the "brains" of the mosquito killer.  It uses Maglite flashlights to illuminate mosquitoes, creating silhouettes on a backdrop.  A camera spots these silhouettes and blasts the mosquitoes with the laser.  Colonies of anopheles stephensi, one species of mosquito that transmits malaria, are cultivated as test victims of the new weapon. 

In recent testing, the device scored a number of hits, killing mosquitoes with deadly efficacy, leaving only smoldering carcasses littering the ground.  The laser even distinguished, based on wing beat, blood sucking female mosquitoes and relatively innocuous male mosquitoes which feed off of sugary nectar (in the lab they're fed sweet raisins).  While the females met death by laser, the males were left blissfully untouched, albeit without female companionship.  Mr. Myhrvold describes, "If you really were a purist, you could only kill the females, not the males."

However, he adds that ultimately humans will probably "just slay them all."



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This sounds a little overkilled...
By mooncancook on 3/16/2009 6:17:29 PM , Rating: 2
killing a mosquito with a laser weapon?




RE: This sounds a little overkilled...
By TomZ on 3/16/2009 7:28:28 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe think of it as killing malaria with a laser instead. It sounds much more important that way.


RE: This sounds a little overkilled...
By FITCamaro on 3/16/2009 8:58:47 PM , Rating: 5
Are you crazy? If they made one that could shoot down insects before impact and integrate it into the hood of a car, they'd sell millions. Give it the ability to destroy small rocks, billions.


By MRwizard on 3/17/2009 1:35:50 AM , Rating: 2
damm, i have no votes left. that bit about destroying the small rocks is an absolutely fantastic idea!! i really wish i was a billionaire!!!!!

PS. +1


By ineedaname on 3/17/2009 3:15:21 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget to integrate them onto the heads of sharks. Now THAT would b worth Trillions.


By davepermen on 3/17/2009 8:05:08 AM , Rating: 5
It's not overkill. But it's definitely MULTIKILL .

or monsterkill?


By Raidin on 3/17/2009 11:14:23 AM , Rating: 3
You're obviously not a regular DT reader, or else you'd know that lasers are the solution to every problem.

Killing mosquitos with lasers...BRILLIANT!


Eye Damage
By nstott on 3/16/2009 8:07:43 PM , Rating: 4
So they'll eliminate malaria but have a bunch of African kids running around with eye damage. Genetically engineered bacteria to kill mosquitoes and genetically engineered super mosquitoes also sound like ideas that could go awry. The vaccination through mosquito bites does sound interesting and clever, though.




RE: Eye Damage
By GlassHouse69 on 3/16/2009 8:31:23 PM , Rating: 3
Actually, we will have a bunch of african kids with a lot of crap to sell on ebay for food money.


RE: Eye Damage
By HrilL on 3/16/2009 9:14:43 PM , Rating: 3
Now that they got laptops in mass the phishing scams have gone up quite a bit.

Not to be mean but if they can't feed all the people they have with millions dieing then how do they think they'll be able to feed another million?


RE: Eye Damage
By nstott on 3/17/2009 8:16:45 PM , Rating: 2
MOST BELOVED HrilL,

I PRAISE THE LORD THAT I HAVE FOUND YOU. I AM SORRY TO REPORT TO YOU THE DEATH OF THE 3,456TH OF YOUR LONG LOST RELATIVES IN A CAR ACCIDENT WHILE TRAVELING IN AFRICA. YOUR GREAT AUNT, GERTRUDE HrilL, WAS ON HER WAY TO THE BANK OF NIGERIA TO COLLECT 100 MILLION UK POUND-WINNINGS OF THE YAHOO! UK LOTTERY PRIZE WHEN SHE WAS AMBUSHED BY A TRIBE OF SUMATRAN RAT MONKEYS (Simian raticus). I AM AFRAID THAT THE BANK WILL NO LONGER RECOGNIZE HER RIGHTS TO THE PRIZE GIVEN HER CURRENT UNDEAD STATE.

WHILE SEARCHING AUNTIE GERTRUDE'S HANDBAG, WE FOUND A SMALL PICTURE OF YOU AS A YOUNG CHILD AND A SIGNED NOTE ASSIGNING HER ENTIRE FORTUNE TO YOU IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT THAT SHE WAS KILLED BY A PACK OF RABID MONKEYS ON THE WAY TO THE BANK.

IN ORDER TO EXPEDITE THE PROCESSING OF YOUR INHERITANCE, PLEASE PROMPTLY SEND A SCANNED COPY OF YOUR PASSPORT AND DRIVER'S LICENSE ALONG WITH:

YOUR FULL NAME:
YOUR ADDRESS (PHYSICAL ADDRESS WITH ZIP CODE):
DATE OF BIRTH (DAY/MONTH/YEAR):
SEX (GENDER/ORIENTATION/HOW OFTEN?):
DIRECT TELEPHONE/MOBILE NUMBER:
BANK NAME:
BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER:
NATIONAL ID NUMBER:
ANY OTHER PERSONAL INFORMATION WE CAN EXPLOIT:

SINGAYA!
NSTOTT
DEWEY, CHEATEM, & HOWE, LTD
PRESIDENT AND CEO


RE: Eye Damage
By UsernameX on 3/19/2009 3:21:25 AM , Rating: 2
Remove this message? Or am I just not seeing the sarcasm?

quote:
MOST BELOVED HrilL, I PRAISE THE LORD THAT I HAVE FOUND YOU. I AM SORRY TO REPORT TO YOU THE DEATH OF THE 3,456TH OF YOUR LONG LOST RELATIVES IN A CAR ACCIDENT WHILE TRAVELING IN AFRICA. YOUR GREAT AUNT, GERTRUDE HrilL, WAS ON HER WAY TO THE BANK OF NIGERIA TO COLLECT 100 MILLION UK POUND-WINNINGS OF THE YAHOO! UK LOTTERY PRIZE WHEN SHE WAS AMBUSHED BY A TRIBE OF SUMATRAN RAT MONKEYS (Simian raticus). I AM AFRAID THAT THE BANK WILL NO LONGER RECOGNIZE HER RIGHTS TO THE PRIZE GIVEN HER CURRENT UNDEAD STATE. WHILE SEARCHING AUNTIE GERTRUDE'S HANDBAG, WE FOUND A SMALL PICTURE OF YOU AS A YOUNG CHILD AND A SIGNED NOTE ASSIGNING HER ENTIRE FORTUNE TO YOU IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT THAT SHE WAS KILLED BY A PACK OF RABID MONKEYS ON THE WAY TO THE BANK. IN ORDER TO EXPEDITE THE PROCESSING OF YOUR INHERITANCE, PLEASE PROMPTLY SEND A SCANNED COPY OF YOUR PASSPORT AND DRIVER'S LICENSE ALONG WITH: YOUR FULL NAME: YOUR ADDRESS (PHYSICAL ADDRESS WITH ZIP CODE): DATE OF BIRTH (DAY/MONTH/YEAR): SEX (GENDER/ORIENTATION/HOW OFTEN?): DIRECT TELEPHONE/MOBILE NUMBER: BANK NAME: BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER: NATIONAL ID NUMBER: ANY OTHER PERSONAL INFORMATION WE CAN EXPLOIT: SINGAYA! NSTOTT DEWEY, CHEATEM, & HOWE, LTD PRESIDENT AND CEO


RE: Eye Damage
By nstott on 3/20/2009 2:01:51 AM , Rating: 2
humorless tool.


RE: Eye Damage
By Raidin on 3/17/2009 11:18:25 AM , Rating: 3
Would be funny if these were implemented, only to find a lot of 'laser parts' on eBay from this region soon after.


RE: Eye Damage
By Starcub on 3/17/2009 2:52:18 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
So they'll eliminate malaria but have a bunch of African kids running around with eye damage.

Yes, but only kids; adults are safe.

Actually, lasers are capable of very accurate small scale measurements and could theoretically be used to ID a mosquito, and as the article suggests, even the sex of the mosquito. However, I would think that the detecting laser would also have to be the firing laser.


How is this even remotely feasable?
By karkas on 3/16/2009 8:27:52 PM , Rating: 2
While I know this is merely concept stuff this seems like a pipe dream to me. What is the power requirement of this laser? The part of the 3rd world these mosquito killing strategies are intended to serve can't even generate enough energy to light up their mud huts at night, much less power a dell computer with a laser that probably chews up thousands of watts of power.

And if they did somehow manage to generate this power, I think it would be better served giving them light or powering water pumps etc... in other words getting them into the 2nd world....




RE: How is this even remotely feasable?
By AssBall on 3/16/2009 9:18:38 PM , Rating: 4
It's hard to get into the second world when half your village is dying of Malaria, smartass.


By paydirt on 3/17/2009 9:29:26 AM , Rating: 2
In Africa, over ONE MILLION people die PER YEAR from malaria. Though "lasers" sounds silly (frickin laser beams), it is a serious problem.

Bad water and malnutrition are also problems along with the seemingly endless wars.


RE: How is this even remotely feasable?
By karkas on 3/17/2009 1:34:19 PM , Rating: 3
In your zeal to flame me you missed the forest for the trees... The areas being devastated by malaria have NO POWER to even so much as run a water purifier to cleanse contaminated local water supplies prior to drinking.

I could build one of these things put it in a nice & pretty suitcase, buy a plane ticket and fly to the region ready to kill some bugs and guess what... there is no power plug to be found!

The point of my post was to show that lasers have a huge power requirement problem. If you want lasers, you have to solve that problem 1st. If you solve the power problem, you will largely cease to have a malaria problem because this will move you out of the 3rd world.

There is already a very good solution that has been available since 1874, is cheap, and it doesn't require any power to use... DDT. It was banned in order to theoretically save some random bird species and subsequently doomed millions of Africans to a painful death.

I didn't really want to get into the DDT debate, but I think it is a very viable alternative.


By Integral9 on 3/18/2009 10:53:20 AM , Rating: 2
Fortunately most of those mosquito filled regions have tons of sun light and or wind.


By AnnihilatorX on 3/16/2009 9:35:07 PM , Rating: 2
Even milliwatt lasers are very strong that can blind sights.
I don't think the software required to target mosquitoes can't be run on any PC, that includes laptops. A low power laptop can probably do the job. If dedicated hardware is built then it even require less power.


Grammar Nazi
By Taejin on 3/16/2009 6:38:13 PM , Rating: 2
its EN MASSE, not in mass..wtf




RE: Grammar Nazi
By nixoofta on 3/16/2009 9:13:29 PM , Rating: 3
"Anal retentives for two hundred Alex."

"its EN MASSE, not in mass..wtf"

"What a french speaking nazi would say about the english phrase "in mass" FTW Alex"

:P


RE: Grammar Nazi
By lycium on 3/17/2009 1:05:54 AM , Rating: 1
you're wasting your time with criticism of mick's writing, i've mailed everyone and no one cares :P

gotta love that picture of the dude with the goggles tho!


RE: Grammar Nazi
By Raidin on 3/17/2009 11:16:58 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sure he's loving the fact that his work allows him to wear those.

..."I look so good in these, I'm so excited!"


RE: Grammar Nazi
By MadMan007 on 3/18/2009 1:16:52 AM , Rating: 2
You mean the one that says
quote:
Dr. Kare, a former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,


How Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was transformed in to a human would be a MUCH more interesting news article than anything about mosquitos.


So...
By shaw on 3/16/2009 6:07:00 PM , Rating: 5
This is like the Obelisk of Light for bugs?




RE: So...
By Smartless on 3/16/2009 6:16:56 PM , Rating: 5
Hehe why not, we already have Tesla coils.


RE: So...
By phxfreddy on 3/16/09, Rating: -1
RE: So...
By FaceMaster on 3/16/09, Rating: -1
RE: So...
By rudolphna on 3/17/2009 12:27:06 PM , Rating: 1
wow.... really?


Natural selection
By kontorotsui on 3/16/2009 8:28:09 PM , Rating: 4
Natural selection would produce, in few generation, reflective mosquitos.




RE: Natural selection
By aegisofrime on 3/17/2009 5:40:03 AM , Rating: 2
Or female mosquitoes with male-like wing beats. Or different wing beats, for that matter.

I do hope the scientists make sure that they kill every single on of those damn creatures. If not, it's gonna be like antibiotic-resistant bacteria all over again.


RE: Natural selection
By blowfish on 3/17/2009 11:11:30 PM , Rating: 3
Not in the USA. God created everything in six days, there is no such thing as natural selection.


Bill Gates
By scrapsma54 on 3/16/2009 10:08:40 PM , Rating: 1
I guess Bill gates has a hand in this, because he was talking about malaria at the ted conference.




RE: Bill Gates
By NarcoticHobo on 3/17/2009 8:21:27 AM , Rating: 5
You mean that plus the fact that the article explicitly states Bill Gates has a hand in this...


The answer to mosquitoes is bats
By TA152H on 3/17/2009 10:47:39 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know why there's so much focus on these very complicated ways of killing mosquitoes when you can just have bats do it for you.

Unfortunately, humans are idiots and afraid of bats instinctively, but they eat mosquitoes like crazy, and you'd really have to find a variety, or breed one, that is rabies free, and create a habitat for them where mosquitoes are. Bats evolve too.

I put up a couple of bat houses on my property, and what a difference. It took a few months before my real estate agent got some to move in (they were "concerned" about the large striped cat and a weird sounding bird, but we insisted the cat was really a raccoon), but after that things really changed. I couldn't stay outside was when the Sun started to set, now I rarely even see a mosquito.

They are also useful for keeping kids away from your home, and also women with unusual hats. All in all, there's very little downside, and a lot of upside in it.

You can get bat houses very cheaply on the internet too, and you just put them on a tree, or post high up. It takes a while though, before you get bats, but once they're there, there's no upkeep or anything, and more and more bats move in over time. Just don't let them see your striped cat is all, if you have one.




By blowfish on 3/17/2009 11:26:11 PM , Rating: 2
This reminds me of the discovery that trained dogs could sniff out early stage melanoma cancers with an accuracy better than 99% - far in excess of any existing techniques.

In England, they said "great, lets get more dogs trained up to do this!"

In the USA, they said "great, lets make an electronic nose that's even better than a dog" (the very idea that a dumb animal could do anything so much better than a medical professional was just too much to take)

Bats sound good, but who could resist a thousand dangled frogs!


By rykerabel on 3/18/2009 3:55:52 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks!!!

I had completely forgotten that solution ( I remember reading about it as a kid)

afk building a nice new bat condo in Louisiana.


Oh Sweet
By clovell on 3/17/2009 11:04:35 AM , Rating: 3
Y'know - I hear a lot of people bringing up the issue of how to fund this in the third world, but I can imagine buying tickets to a show and bringing the kids to see automated laser-baring robots shooting down hordes of mosquitos behind a glass wall.

Yeah, I'm a dork - but you can't tell that would not effing rock!




We got the lasers....
By PlasmaBomb on 3/16/2009 6:23:16 PM , Rating: 2
Where are the sharks?




Just slay them all!
By Lightnix on 3/16/2009 6:34:00 PM , Rating: 2
Because surely you might as well do that if you're killing off their female population anyway?




By Casual Observer on 3/16/2009 6:47:11 PM , Rating: 2
What will John Travolta say? Use a MAC?
Could be a plot to reuse old disk drives, fitted with tiny mirrors.

Seriously they can't afford insecticides, but will lasers?




Effect on food chain?
By chmilz on 3/16/2009 7:00:46 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not comfortable with us killing off all mosquitoes. I don't know how much impact annihilating mosquitoes would have, but the potential ripple effect through the food chain scares the crap out of me.




Paging the ACLU
By kyleb2112 on 3/16/2009 9:28:46 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
"strong enough to kill mosquitoes, but weak enough to not kill desirable insects like endangered butterflies."

Clearly a case of insect profiling.




Not to harp on the subject....
By nixoofta on 3/16/2009 10:46:17 PM , Rating: 2
...but I get the feeling we're not gonna slingshot Rosie into the sun.

Think of the children!




Mosquito's who needs them ?
By William Gaatjes on 3/17/2009 1:38:24 AM , Rating: 2
But i do know that tthe immune system of the mosquito actually attacks the plasmodium parasite. But a very small number of theses parasites slips through and starts to multiply in the human host again. There is also research to boost the immune system of the mosquito to prevent the plasmodium to get into the human host. The mosquito immune system killing the parasite for 100 % is the goal in the end.

Some links :

http://www.physorg.com/news151309041.html

http://www.physorg.com/news138591536.html

http://www.physorg.com/news156160228.html

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=mosquito-immun...




bad idea
By KashGarinn on 3/17/09, Rating: 0
RE: bad idea
By aegisofrime on 3/17/2009 5:43:24 AM , Rating: 2
Even if you were to clear out swamps and puddles there will still be some patches of stagnant water somewhere. I live in a tropical urban country endemic to dengue fever, so it's still a huge problem despite there not being a single swamp here.


Good night, travel well culicidaes.
By Bladen on 3/17/2009 5:29:53 AM , Rating: 2
I, for one, bid farewell to our insectoid overlords.




The root of all evil
By parge on 3/17/2009 8:28:18 AM , Rating: 2
This is great, apart from the face that most African villages where the malaria problem is so prevalent haven't got access to fresh water, let alone the money to pay for a mosquito killing laser.

Even if they were given away, I wonder how long they would last before they were being stolen and auctioned off on the black market.

This is what happens when too much cash is plunged into a single field of research




waste of money
By tastyratz on 3/17/2009 10:44:22 AM , Rating: 2
EVERYONE knows its much more economical to tie strings to hungry frog legs and dangle them by the masses from a slow flying drone over all the ponds... That should be public knowledge.

These laser people have such silly ideas...




A much simpler solution...
By BitByRabidAlgae on 3/17/2009 1:08:14 PM , Rating: 2
DDT. It kills and repels mosquitoes. And you don't need to gas the whole village for it to be effective. Targeted, properly measured applicaitons are quite safe. They are also orders of magnitude more effective and cheaper than anything else out there right now.

Yes, it would also kill other insects. But, ask some Africans if they would rather save their families or a butterfly. I wonder what they would choose.




frogs?
By Murloc on 3/17/2009 2:51:25 PM , Rating: 2
what will frogs eat?

and seriously, this would cost too much, they have other problems to solve.
Actually, they could solve some by ending wars and dictatures, but africa goes that way, only time can change that.




By DeepBlue1975 on 3/17/2009 8:07:39 PM , Rating: 2
That the laser method of killing mosquitos is so lightning fast that there is no other word to define it than "brilliant".

Things like this illuminate our lives with big solutions for small problems.

(yes it's a joke, and yes it's a pretty bad one... Now throw me that -1 you're desperate to give me! :D )




Lasers
By btc909 on 3/19/2009 4:14:31 AM , Rating: 2
Laser resistant Mosquitoes.

Evolution will catch up.




Only a bug zapper?
By ohmy12345 on 3/16/2009 7:12:31 PM , Rating: 1
How will they discriminate between mozzies and everything else that flies? And, it seems that bats might be the thing to promote, since they are already sonar-equipped, and many species eat things like mosquitos... So, let's hope this isn't a Bug 'n Bat Zapper.




Check this
By anonymousk104 on 3/16/09, Rating: -1
RE: Check this
By kyleb2112 on 3/16/2009 9:30:18 PM , Rating: 2
Someone ban this spammer.


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