Archive for January, 2008

Why Bill Gates is a bonehead. This time

January 27, 2008

Bill Gates got a lot of attention last week at TED for releasing mosquitoes into the theatre where he was doing a presentation on malaria. Many people reacted by declaring it the most amazing thing ever. Others thought it was stupid.

Personally, I thought it was irresponsible. While I’m sure he didn’t release any malaria infected mosquitoes, I would like to know some details about exactly what type of mosquitoes he did release. I haven’t seen anything saying what species they were, or, perhaps more importantly, what sex they were.

If the mosquitoes were all male, then there isn’t a problem. Male mosquitoes don’t bite, therefore don’t transmit disease. However, if they were all male, it’s less effective as a demonstration. Male mosquitoes are unlikely to buzz people because they have no interest in blood.

No-one has said they were male, only that they didn’t have malaria. Malaria is only carried by Anopholes mosquitoes. Transmission happens when an Anopholes mosquito bites an infected host, and then bites an uninfected host. There are a lot of details about how the mosquito’s immune system works which enables the parasite to survive long enough to infect a new host, but let’s not go into that. Suffice it to say that this is why different mosquitoes carry different diseases.

Now, the problem is that, while non-Anopholes mosquitoes won’t carry malaria, they can carry a wide range of other diseases, depending on the species. And recent events have resulted in disease tolerant species resurging in new environments. West Nile has appeared in the North Eastern US, and just in the past week a resurgence in Dengue carrying mosquitoes has occurred due to the flooding in Northern Queensland.

So what species of mosquito did Bill release? What sex were they? Was anyone in the audience infected with mosquito-borne disease (of which there are several – look it up in Wikipedia)? And, really, did he think this through at all?

Maybe he was paraphrasing Al Gore: “At last I get to kill people with deadly mosquitoes, instead of deadly PowerPoint presentations…”