Killing them Softly: Using Essential Oils to Safely and Effectively Combat Mosquitoes

This post is in response to the WordPress Daily Prompt:

Daily Prompt: Necessity is the Mother of Invention

by Krista on December 14, 2013

Imagine, in great detail, an invention that could help reverse pollution — describe for us how your invention works and how it will help save the planet.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us INVENTIVE.

Although I more closely identify with the title “scientist”, I feel this goes hand in hand with the title “artist”, so I will respond.

I must preface this post by saying that this is not 100% my ideas or knowledge, but a collection of team member thoughts at the University of Minnesota which I had the pleasure to work with the last several months. The knowledge here is under the ownership of these individuals, and our ideas have been documented properly. The unauthorized use of any of these ideas without permission is plagiarism and theft, and will be treated as such.

I think many people can agree that the plethora of pesticides we have used on our planet within the last century have been quite devastating to our environment. But the necessity of these pesticides can hardly be argued in the contrast, with mosquitos carrying deadly diseases that kill young and old around the world every day.

So I would like to bring forward my brilliant team’s proposal; a simple duckweed plant, changed slightly to create an essential oil that can stop the growth of mosquitoes in their larval stage.

As a side note, the power of duckweed as, literally, a green water purification, really is underestimated.

Duckweed plant

Duckweed is a plant already present in many places mosquitoes reproduce and grow. Every stage of a mosquito’s life up until adulthood occurs in still water; the duckweed plant’s natural habitat. So why not attack there to stop mosquitoes in their tracks?

Thymol, an essential oil, is a safe and effective larvicide. And a plant we know of, lemon beebalm (a plant I occasionally enjoy herbal tea from), creates this thymol naturally from a gene we know of. Thus, we propose taking that gene from lemon beebalm that codes for the enzymes responsible for thymol production, and inserting it into duckweed.

The technology is known to move this gene from one species to another; using a TaqMan DNA extraction kit to take the gene from the lemon beebalm, amplify our specific gene using a polymerase chain reaction, and using 2 specific restriction enzymes and a pGreenII plasmid to put the gene into agrobacterium, and then infect the duckweed with the agrobacterium. In theory, the modified duckweed should produce the thymol and effectively kill mosquito larva in whatever water source it is put into. We can test our theory after running this experiment on the modified duckweed with Hewlett Packard essential oil analysis technology.

The animal lives that could potentially be saved from widely using a safer pesticide is encouraging. There are some discouraging factors of this potentially new larvicide, though, such as the unknown implications of the antibiotic effects of thymol. With more experiments and research, we could study the implications and possibly develop this technology.

BIOL2002, 2013, Section20, Team 9 (1) Poster

In conclusion, the creativity and science behind this idea go hand in hand; one hardly more important than the other. The mix is such a beautiful thing to me.