Global health R&D at work in Maine
University of Maine researchers are working on a plant-based biopesticide that is toxic to mosquitoes but harmless to the environment. Such an approach could help stop the spread of diseases like Zika and West Nile Virus. It could also help counter the insects’ growing resistance to existing pesticides. The team found that certain plants are attractive to egg-laying mosquitoes but hostile to their larvae. One reason is bacteria; plants with more bacterial diversity entice more mosquitoes. But bacterial abundance, not diversity, leads to better larval survival. The team discovered that blackberry plant is an ecological trap: its leaves have a high diversity but low abundance of bacteria, attracting mosquitoes to lay eggs but giving the larvae little food to grow. Future studies will explore whether the leaves can be used to foil this small but deadly pest.