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Scientists develop non-toxic way to kill mosquitoes

Scientists develop non-toxic way to kill mosquitoes
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Scientists have developed a non-toxic way to kill mosquitoes with a simple hack that uses ordinary baker's yeast and orange oil to eliminate the nasty...

Scientists have developed a non-toxic way to kill mosquitoes with a simple hack that uses ordinary baker's yeast and orange oil to eliminate the nasty insects while they are still in their larval stage.

In a paper published in the journal of Parasites & Vectors, researchers from the University of Mexico reported that their method is effective against Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which is responsible for transmitting dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.

Essential oils from plants like orange oil have known insecticidal properties, said Ivy Hurwitz, PhD, a research associate professor at UNM's Center for Global Health.

"Plants use it to protect themselves against predators," she says, "so we're just using it in a different way."

Simply put, Hurwitz and her collaborators have found a way to inject orange oil into yeast cells. The oil kills the yeast, but tiny droplets of oil remain contained inside the yeast's tough cell wall.

Using a proprietary method, oil residue is washed from the outside of the yeast cells, which are then dried into powder - and later mixed with water to create a solution that can be sprayed on the ponds and puddles where larvae hatch and grow.

It turns out mosquito larvae love to munch on yeast, Hurwitz says, but they succumb when they ingest the oil-laden fungal cells.

The team's patented technology solves the problem of introducing toxic chemicals into the environment that can harm humans and other creatures and tend to lose their effectiveness over time, Hurwitz says.

"It's a step away from using the larvicides that are more harmful to humans, like organophosphates," she says. "A lot of mosquitoes are starting to develop resistance to these things."

And it's more effective than simply spraying essential oils into the environment, because the oils can be toxic in high concentrations, and they rapidly break down when exposed to sunlight. In addition, getting the larvae to eat oil-laden yeast means much lower concentrations of oil are required to eradicate them, she says.

Hurwitz and her team started working on the project for about four years ago when there were worldwide concerns about the newly identified Zika virus. They knew that larvae ate yeast - and when grown in the lab they were fed fish flakes, which are mostly yeast.

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