Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lasers could be used to kill mosquitoes en masse, stem malaria

Mosquito-killing-laser-research.jpgA relic from the '80s, Reagan's "Star Wars" program, or Strategic Defense Initiative, involved lasers designed to shoot down satellites. Decades later, I'm happy to report that we're looking into how to turn those lasers on mosquitoes.

Yep, you read that right — we're finally going to war with the buggers.

Some high-caliber researchers, including Nathan Myhrvold (formerly of Microsoft, pictured top right) and Jordin Kare (a former employee of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is a serious weapons lab), are looking at how lasers could pinpoint and eradicate one of the pests from a distance. An early demonstration showed promise, as mosquitoes inside a glass box were lit up by non-lethal beams from 100 feet away.

The scientists aren't working on producing a better American picnic, though. The real target is malaria, which kills around a million people every year — most of them in developing countries.

It's all part of a serious initiative backed by the likes of Bill Gates, the UN and non-profits such as Malaria No More to fund vaccines and preventive technologies that could curtail the spread of the deadly disease. Mosquitoes have proven resistant to previous attempts to dissuade or poison them — let's hope they don't become invulnerable to lasers, too.

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