Unfortunately, as promising as the results from the various studies to date are — there is no doubt that this method can kill mosquitoes — a good deal more work is needed before the ATSB technique is ready for widespread use. For one thing, there is the matter of varied environments. George Dimopoulos, a malaria researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, notes that one challenge facing the method is getting mosquitoes to reliably feed on the poison-spiked sugar source when there are other sugar sources available. Mosquito-breeding sites such as swamps or wet areas could be targeted, Müller says.
The research so far has been what Beier calls single-application trials. Beier, who has studied the effectiveness of ATSB in Mali, calls for “rigorous studies” comparing numerous ATSB sites with those not using the technique, and “repeating the applications every month, every two months, throughout the malaria-?transmission season.”
There’s also concern over the impact that this approach would have on beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies. Could it inadvertently harm them?
“It has to be addressed. It could be an obstacle to the use of this technology,” Costero says.
“One way of dealing with that is to identify the specific olfactory cues that the mosquitoes use,” Dimopoulos says. Mosquitoes, for instance, are drawn to humans because they can smell human sweat. ?Another possible idea is to identify which specific molecules will harm mosquitoes but not other insects or birds. Based on other researchers’ solutions, Costero suggests that a simpler way around the concern would be to set up the sugar-bait traps inside homes, where beneficial insects typically don’t go. Or, the deadly sweet poison could also be sprayed on green plants, notes Müller. Bees are not attracted to green plants, so they would not be affected by this method. And, if bait stations are installed, Müller says a fine mesh could be used that would allow mosquitoes to pass through but keep out other insects.
While the top priority for the development and use of ATSB would clearly be to combat malaria, wouldn’t it be nice if it could also be used in those instances where mosquitoes are primarily a nuisance? Beier thinks so.
“I have two dogs that are [outside], and there are always mosquitoes. If I had an ATSB trap or could buy one at Home Depot or a feed store, I’d put it out to reduce the mosquito concentration around them.”
HARVEY BLACK is a freelance science writer based in Madison, Wis. He has written for Environmental Health Perspectives, The Scientist, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and New Scientist, among other publications.