Growth5 Blog

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mosquitos Were Mostly Safe Until Bill Gates Got Involved

I attended a barbecue over the weekend and was reminded of an article about mosquitoes I read recently. Where's your laser gun when you need it.

A few years ago, on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates asked Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft Corp. executive who now runs Intellectual Ventures LLC., a company that collects patents and funds inventions, to come up with new ways to get rid of mosquitoes.

The goal was to combat malaria, "which is caused by a parasite transmitted when certain mosquitoes bite people. Ended in the U.S. decades ago, malaria remains a major global public-health threat, killing about 1 million people annually. Efforts to eradicate the disease languished for years until recently."

At an Intellectual Ventures brainstorming session in 2007, Dr. Lowell Wood, the architect of the 'Star Wars' missile defense system, suggested using lasers on mosquitoes just as the US had used lasers to protect our citizens from Soviet missiles.

"Soon Dr. Wood, Dr. Kare and another Star Wars scientist teamed with an entomologist with a Ph.D in mosquito behavior and other experts. They killed their first mosquito with a hand-held laser in early 2008.

We like to think back then we made some contribution to the ending of the Cold War" with the Star Wars program, Dr. Kare says. "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."

The lasers can detect mosquitoes by their wing-beat. They are currently working on fine-tuning the power of the laser to make sure it kills mosquitoes but leaves other insects and humans unharmed.

"The scientists envision their technology might one day be used to draw a laser barrier around a house or village that could kill or blind the bugs."

And then once malaria is dealt with, hopefully we can pick up the mosquito laser device at a store near us.

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