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Proteins show promise for mosquito control

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Lan has a somewhat personal vendetta against disease-carrying mosquitoes. Growing up in China, she contracted malaria when she was 13. A school teacher recognized her symptoms and encouraged her to see a physician. "I was drenched in sweat and pale as paper," Lan recalls. Interestingly, her father had malaria when he was a teenager. "That's 50 percent of my family," she says.

"Control is urgent," Lan says. "Mosquito-borne illnesses are endemic in parts of China. Malaria is a big problem in south-central China. South of the Yangtze River the infant mortality rate is high, especially in homes without screens on the windows."

Although Lan grew up in Wuhan, a bustling city of 7 million, there were rice fields nearby. "It is a land of 10,000 lakes," she says, where rice is a major crop and the weather is hot and humid, perfect for mosquito breeding.

Worldwide, mosquitoes are notorious for spreading not only malaria, but also dengue fever (so painful it's commonly called "break bone fever"), several forms of encephalitis, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. And the numbers are increasing. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 300 million cases of mosquito-borne diseases annually. Malaria is the biggest killer, claiming a million lives a year.

The two main approaches to future mosquito control, as Lan sees it, are genetic and chemical. In the genetic approach, she says, researchers are working on ways to modify the malaria mosquito so that it cannot transmit disease, but it can still take a blood meal. The problem with that approach, she says, is that there are many uncertainties about releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment.

Lan believes that a more fine-tuned chemical approach is more practical: only one compound is selected, it works for a short period, and it targets a single insect. "People might ask, 'Why do we need more pesticides?'" Lan says. The answer is twofold: resist
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Contact: Que Lan
qlan@entomology.wisc.edu
608-263-7924
University of Wisconsin-Madison
10-Sep-2004


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