Blog by Alexandra Page
As insects and other pests are causing prevailing issues in rural populations, scientists and citizens alike are working diligently on innovations designed to combat them. Vector-borne illnesses are among the most daunting problems caused by insects and other pests, and experts have spent years researching safe and effective solutions to the expansion of consistently threatening populations such as mosquitoes.
In 1995, microbiologist Dr. Palmira Ventosilla developed a relatively simple but innovative method for controlling the mosquito larva population in Peru. By inoculating homegrown coconuts with the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, or Bti, and allowing the bacteria to multiply before cracking and dropping the coconuts into bodies of water, these dangerous animals were decimated at rapid rates. Dr. Ventosilla’s small kit, containing a cotton swab seeded with Bti spores, another swab with sodium glutamate, a small piece of cotton, and instructions on how to inoculate the coconut, allows anyone access to this simple and cost effective solution.
Bti is a naturally occurring bacteria found in soil and on plants and insects. It produces a toxin that kills multiple species of mosquitoes, gnats, and blackflies, but is proven to have little to no effect on any other animals. From other insects, fish, and birds, to humans, the World Health Organization states that even in drinking water, Bti is not known to be harmful. This is one of the many things that sets Bti apart as a method to halt the spread of vector-borne illness, as most widespread solutions derive from potentially toxic chemical pesticides. Not only is cost effectiveness another advantage to the use of Bti, but current data shows mosquitoes have no resistance to the bacteria, unlike the immunity Mosquito species have been developing against chemical-based pest control products.
After first developing the kit, Dr. Ventosilla and her team conducted an experiment by providing Bti kits to 98 families with grade-school children in Salitral, Peru. Beginning with education and awareness campaigns, the team taught the residents both about vector-borne illness transmission and the inoculation method. Not only did the experiment yield a 90% extermination rate of mosquito larvae in the treated ponds, but a decade later, the Doctor and her team found the residents of Salitral were more educated in and better equipped to deal with the dangers of disease carrying insects. The town boasted zero reported cases of Dengue and fewer cases of Malaria than the original control town in the decade since the experiment was conducted.
The Bti kit not only served, and still serves, as a stunningly simple yet effective health innovation, but as a foundational building block to the edification of those who experience its implementation. It highlights the advantages of using natural, local materials to combat health issues, and emphasizes that innovation does not have to be complex to be groundbreaking.
Source: Goodier, R. (2016, November 02). Coconuts Control Mosquitoes that Transmit Zika and Malaria. Retrieved August, from https://www.engineeringforchange.org/bacteria-breeding-coconuts-may-control-mosquitoes-that-transmit-zika-and-malaria/
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