LEXINGTON, Ky., June 25 (UPI) -- Don't feed the animals. The directive is plastered on signs in parks and zoos across the globe. But that's exactly what researchers at the University of Kentucky are proposing to do. And not just any animal -- they want to feed mosquitoes.
Scientists hope that by developing an artificial blood buffet, they can boost mosquito research in faraway places. The artificial platelets might also be used to deliver sterilization compounds to unsuspecting mosquito populations -- populations that carry deadly diseases, like West Nile, malaria, yellow fever, chikungunya and others.
All around the world, researchers are working on ways to battle the disease-spreading blood-suckers, but in places with limited resources, it's challenging to maintain a population of mosquitoes on which to conduct experiments.
In such places, fake blood might be of help.
"Multiple, new approaches to control mosquito populations require the ability to rear mosquitoes," Stephen Dobson, a professor of medical and veterinary entomology at Kentucky, explained in a press release. "The artificial blood technology will help us to better fight disease-transmitting mosquitoes in resource-limited areas."
In addition to perfecting blood-like mosquito food, Dobson has developed a sterilization technique using a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia. The synthetic blood buffet allows Dobson and his colleagues to cheaply and efficiently raise larger numbers of sterilized tiger mosquitos. The sexually inept insects act as a natural pesticide -- let out into the world to thwart the reproductive process in local populations.
Researchers are now working on similar techniques, designed for different mosquito species. Dobson's continued work is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.