Scientists Build Anti-Mosquito Laser

A laser that kills mosquitoes could help reduce the spread of malaria. Image credit: PlaneMad/Wikipedia

( -- In an effort to prevent the spread of malaria, scientists have built a laser that shoots and kills mosquitoes. Malaria, which is caused by a parasite and transmitted by mosquitoes, kills about 1 million people every year.

The anti-mosquito was originally introduced by Lowell Wood in the early 1980s, but the idea never took off. More recently, former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold revived the laser idea when Bill Gates asked him to explore new ways of combating .

Now, astrophysicist Jordin Kare from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Wood, Myhrvold, and other experts have developed a handheld laser that can locate individual and kill them one by one. The developers hope that the technology might be used to create a laser barrier around a house or village that could kill or blind the insects. Alternatively, flying drones equipped with anti-mosquito lasers could track the insects with radar and then sweep the sky with the laser.

The researchers are tuning the strength of the laser so that it kills mosquitoes without harming other insects or, especially, people. The system can even distinguish between males and females by the frequency of their wing movements, which may be important since only females spread the parasite.

In experiments, the system could target mosquitoes with a flashlight, and then uses a zoom lens to feed the data to the computer, which fires at the insect. Each time the laser strikes a mosquito, the computer makes a gunshot sound. When the mosquito is hit, it bursts into flame and falls to the ground, and a thin plume of smoke rises.

The anti-mosquito laser is just one of many novel ways to kill the disease-carrying insects, in addition to the conventional strategy of vaccinating humans. Other ideas include devices that disrupt the mosquitoes' senses of sight, smell, and heat; feeding them poisoned blood; infecting them with a genetically altered ; and creating a malaria-free mutant to overtake the natural mosquitoes.

via: Wall Street Journal

© 2009

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User comments

Mar 16, 2009
where do I buy one?!

Mar 16, 2009
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Mar 16, 2009
This is even better than lasers mounted on the heads of sharks!

Plus it's for real.

The evil in me is wondering it could be developed such that the laser tuned to permanently incapacitate the mosquito and then affect its brain into thinking that it is extremely itchy all over its little body.

Mar 16, 2009
What worries me is the possibility that the laser will strike someone by accident and damage their retina.On the bright side(no pun intended),lasers could also be very useful in controlling that other biblical plague: locusts,which could be attacked from UAVs.The little buggers would be cooked as they fell, and provide food for cattle,and,if they weren't queasy,people.North American Indians used to roast and enjoy grasshoppers.

Mar 16, 2009
A new meaning for "the blue screen of death" when it comes to malfunctioning software. Too bad if your eyeball looks a bit mosquito-like.

Mar 16, 2009
Ha! I would guess that since Microsucks has something to do with it, it will need to be rebooted every few hours, and then will flash a little bubble saying "Do you want to report this error to Microsoft?"

Mar 17, 2009
"When the mosquito is hit, it bursts into flame and falls to the ground, and a thin plume of smoke rises. "

Oh sweet poetic justice! Is it bad that I am laughing maniacally?

Mar 17, 2009
Old news, it exists for some years now: http://www.youtub...WpFPkYrk

Mar 17, 2009
I am concerned at the possibility of causing this insects' extinction, this could have drastic consequences to the environment.

For example:

The larvae are a good food source in ponds, adults to many other animals like birds;

they also pass on viruses which can mutate genetic code, and help evolution (or kill).

In this way they will control population of humans, and other animals.

Life is all connected, remove one element and it could all turn unstable

Mar 17, 2009
I just came up with a great name for the commercial product ... OVERKILL!

Mar 17, 2009
Disciple> You've got to be kidding... right? Extinction of mosquitoes? It's not as if they only congregate around human settlements and only feed on humans. There are _plenty_ of mosquitoes to go around. Even if you armed every single village in the world with these things I doubt if it would affect the mosquito population by more than 1%.

Mar 17, 2009
It was an off topic "what if"

Mar 17, 2009
This is really science in the service of man.

Is there a model that targets both mosquitos and black flies? I live in the country and could really use a device like that. (The fly electrocuter from COSTCO is rather limited.)

Mar 17, 2009
If it could be tuned to take out houseflies then you have a very popular gadget in the West. Infinitely better than pesticides. The gunshot sound could become annoying or cause a firefight. Probably better to change it to something innocuous like a hockey goal sound.

Mar 17, 2009
We should use this in conjunction with insect attractors to kill more, and place them over the fields and compost piles so that the bugs become usable biomass for the soil. It would work if you could really get the thing cooking and you could take out whole swarms of locusts and turn a plague into fertilizer.

Mar 17, 2009
Hmmm flaming bugs dropping into dry grass out here on the prarie. This bit of nonsense might just become a household reality. I better check my fire insurance policy.

Mar 17, 2009
I work at the Intellectual Ventures Lab where this system is being created. Just wanted to respond to a few points in the comments:

Using lasers, we don't expect to eradicate mosquitoes entirely, but they can be a way to help reduce their populations enough that malaria can't survive. In particular, the laser system can help create a perimeter to keep people safe.

As far as we know, there aren't any species that rely solely on mosquitoes as a food source, so even extinction might be acceptable. We're not trying to eradicate mosquitoes though, we're trying to eradicate malaria.

Also, pesticides, such as DDT are non-discriminatory. They can take care of mosquitoes, but harm lots of other life forms as well. Because of DDT's abuse, there are bans and economic sanctions that prevent its use. Changing that is a political problem.

Thanks, I will try to respond if there are further questions here.

Mar 17, 2009
Will it be very expensive? What is the range of the laser?

I hope those villagers be able to afford this system?

Mar 18, 2009

Thanks for the clarification. Can you give us the website for your lab?

Mar 21, 2009
I would also like to know the price of this unit. Also how much does it use electricity?
And finally, if one can not get one for some reason, or it's not effective, then one might need to cure that accuired malaria, where this could be of help:

Mar 21, 2009
Oh I would pay TEN DOLLARS to watch one of these at work for an hour. SWEET PAYBACK!!!!!

As I was a kid I was afraid of bats until I found out one summer that they ATE mosquitos. Then I watched them quietly every evening with respect and glee!

Mar 28, 2009
An article at about a laser mosquito-killing device has this sentence in it: 'The anti-mosquito laser is just one of many novel ways to kill the disease-carrying insects, in addition to the conventional strategy of vaccinating humans.' Wilson Fowlie wishes he had known before now that getting a vaccination was sufficient to kill mosquitoes.


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